The Guilford County Board of Commissioners is trying to save the county’s taxpayers an estimated $8 million by not having to purchase new voting machines by the end of the year – but, right now, it’s anyone’s guess whether they’ll have any luck in that attempt.

Due to a change in state law that goes into effect later this year, Guilford County and 20 other counties across the state will be required to purchase new voting machines because of the particulars as to how those current machines – perfectly functional ones – operate.

Guilford County’s plan works on the principle that there’s strength in numbers: On Thursday, March 21, the Board of Commissioners expects to pass a resolution asking the state to extend the deadline, then get all 20 other affected counties on board with the resolution and present that proposal to the General Assembly.

That plan largely came out of a Monday, March 18 meeting between the county commissioners and state legislators who represent the county.  At the meeting, the group discussed several issues including the state’s requirement that the county purchase new election machines.

Guilford County Commissioner Jeff Phillips said there seems to be a consensus that adopting a resolution is the best course of action.

“Everyone agreed that it would be helpful for our board to vote in favor of a resolution requesting an extension,” he said, adding that that would align with a federal timeline of 2021 when there may be some federal funds to help pay for new voting machines.

“Once done [with the resolution], we discussed inviting the other 20 counties with similar concerns as Guilford to join our request,” Phillips said.

Phillips said he’s “cautiously optimistic” that the state’s deadline will be extended to be more in line with the federal legislation that’s now in the works.  He said that federal legislation would likely include some funds to offset or supplement voting machine replacement costs.

Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Alan Branson said it makes a great deal of sense for Guilford County to be given more time on the decision since it’s conceivable in the current situation that Guilford County could spend $8 million on new voting machines and then, due to changes in federal law, be required to buy a whole new set of voting machines in two years.

Commissioner Hank Henning also said there are a lot of reasons why it makes sense for the state to provide more time to the 21 counties. He said that, right now, there only appears to be one voting machine vendor those counties could use to purchase the type of machines required, so it’s unknown if that $8-million estimate would turn out to be anywhere close to accurate.

“That $8-million is a complete guess,” Henning said, adding that, in the current landscape, which may be limited to one machine vendor, it’s nowhere near clear what Guilford County will have to spend to comply with the state’s requirements.

Like Branson, Henning said he’s concerned the county might spend millions on new machines and then there could be a change in the federal law that makes the new machines obsolete in a couple of years.

“We could buy these machines and then turn around and have to get new ones,” Henning said.  “Usually, when there’s a debate, I can see the argument on the other side – but, in this case, I don’t understand the genesis of the reason to rush forward with what appears to be an arbitrary deadline.”

Henning said he’s very encouraged by the discussion at the March 18 meeting with state legislators.

“I love our entire Local Delegation on both sides of the aisle,” Henning said.  “On this and every other issue we discuss, I feel like they are all just trying to do the right thing.”