According to Guilford County Commissioner Jeff Phillips, the county is pushing back on a state-imposed requirement that Guilford County buy new election machines at a cost to county taxpayers of $7 million to $8 million.
Under a state mandate, all of the 1,430 touchscreen voting machines Guilford County now owns would have to be sold off or scrapped – even though they’re in good working order – and the county would have to purchase millions worth of new machines to replace them.
Guilford County’s touchscreen machines are of a style known as “direct-recording” machines that tabulate the votes electronically off of the touchscreen’s buttons. Though they do create a paper record, some argue that direct-recording machines are more susceptible to election hacking than other voting machines.
Phillips said Guilford County is asking the state to extend the deadline for new machines so that everyone can take a long hard look at the legislation that many have said is ill-conceived.
“We have asked for a reprieve on the deadline requirement, and I think that’s under consideration from what I’ve heard,” Phillips said.
He added that the expense would be tremendous.
“It’s like an $8-million obligation that we’ve got to satisfy by the end of next year and, frankly, we can’t afford it,” he said.
Current North Carolina law requires that the new machines be in use in all counties across the state by the March 2020 elections.
According to state election officials, 21 counties across the state currently use machines that don’t comply with the new regulations.
One of those is Mecklenburg County, where the expense will be even greater than in Guilford County. According to the Charlotte Observer, the cost to switch to the new machines in that county will be over $15 million.
One previous study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School estimated that the affected counties in North Carolina would have to spend $4.9 million to $7.7 million each; however, the estimates now coming in from individual counties look like the actual cost will be higher than the study’s estimate.
The change is meant to address concerns of election hacking and other election security issues, but critics of the move argue that the new machines won’t be any more secure than the ones now in use.
Phillips said the machines Guilford County has been using work fine.
Bought in 2006, they’ve served the county well for the past 12 years.
“We shouldn’t need to pay for this right now with machines that are in perfectly good working order,” the commissioner said.
Guilford County Board of Elections Director Charlie Collicutt said state law requires that the ballot be marked by the voter, and then that marked piece of paper must be tabulated by machines.
“Right now, the voter is casting electronically and the electronic count is getting tabulated,” Collicutt said.
If efforts to delay or halt the major change are unsuccessful, Guilford County may move to a system reminiscent of an SAT exam, where the voter fills in bubbles that are then read and recorded by tabulating machines.
Other states continue to use the machines that would be sold off by Guilford County and 20 other North Carolina counties, so hopefully buyers could be found for the machines if the state does not relent.