There’s now some hope on the horizon for about 20 counties in North Carolina that were being forced to abandon their voting machines by the end of 2019 and spend millions on new machines this year.

On Wednesday, June 19, NC House Rep. Jon Hardister presented a bill that would provide relief to those counties – including Guilford County – and that legislation passed the House unanimously.

Hardister said the move was a necessary one that was made after conferring with state election officials.  He said that, though a state law on the books requires counties with certain kinds of voting machines to change over to new ones by the end of 2019, under the new legislation he introduced Wednesday, all counties in the state will now have the ability to file for a waiver that would give them until the end of 2020 to make the changeover to new machines.

Guilford County’s touchscreen machines – like those in many other counties in the state – are of a style known as “direct-recording” machines that tabulate the votes electronically off of the touchscreen, and those machines will no longer be certified once the deadline has passed because the state law requires the use of paper ballots.  Even though the Guilford County machines create a paper record, that isn’t enough to comply with the state law passed in 2013 requiring the use of paper ballots.  The state Board of Elections hasn’t approved new voting machines that produce a paper ballot and counties can only use voting machines approved by the state Board of Elections.

The deadline for introducing new legislation had expired so Hardister took an existing but dead bill, transformed it into the new waiver legislation and convinced his colleges in the House to vote for it.

Hardister said he anticipates that the bill will pass the NC Senate. He said it will buy more time for counties that are about to face the big expense of purchasing new machines.

“Now, if they request a waiver, they will be good through 2020,” Hardister said.

Guilford County officials have estimated that changing to new machines will cost county taxpayers about $8 million.

“The machines used in Guilford County are not connected to the internet and they are functioning perfectly,” he said, adding that those machines create a paper record as well.

Hardister said he consulted with election officials regarding the new waivers and one consideration is that the NC Board of Elections was out of commission for a significant period last year and those officials also need some additional time to meet and discuss requirements for the new machines.

There are about 20 other counties across the state that will be required to purchase new voting machines under the state law that likely now won’t go into effect until the end of next year – and, like Guilford County, those other counties don’t want to be forced to spend millions on new machines this year.  About 80 of the state’s 100 counties have voting machines that already meet the new state guidelines that are going into effect.

While the other counties may still have to address the issue by the end of 2020, if the legislation is successful, they won’t be required to rush out and purchase new machines hastily without having enough time to figure out the best solution for their needs.