Moves this week by some state lawmakers are causing panic – or at least dread – in many counties across the state including Guilford County.

If a new Democratic-led effort is successful in the NC General Assembly, Boards of Elections in about 20 North Carolina counties may now find themselves rushing around trying to buy election machines at what’s basically, in election timelines, the last minute.

Earlier this year it seemed as though there was a lot of agreement on a move led by state Rep. Jon Hardister on legislation that would give counties until the end of 2020 – rather than until the end of 2019 – to move to a new type of voting machine, as long as the NC Board of Elections approved the extension for each county.

A bill in the NC House of Representatives that included that extension provision passed the House unanimously earlier this year – however, this week, state lawmakers, in an effort led by Democrats, nearly killed that extension even though it’s now much closer to the deadline than before. While Hardister and others helped fight back that initial attempt, the political battle is now raging in Raleigh.

If no relief is granted to counties, then, under the state law that goes into effect at the end of the year, all 1,430 of Guilford County’s touchscreen voting machines would have to be discarded – even though they’re in perfectly good working order – and the county would have to purchase new machines to replace them.

Other counties across the state would have to do the same.

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 and those machines would no longer be allowed. Though they create a paper record, some people argue that direct-recording machines are more susceptible to hacking than other types of voting machines.

While the transition to new machines will happen, what many election officials in North Carolina have been trying to avoid is making the move in haste. In 2018, a political battle over the state Board of Elections prevented that board from meeting and conducting business and caused a delay in the process of certifying the brands of machines that can be used in the future.

If the extension isn’t granted by the state, Guilford County and other counties would have to shop for new machines, get contracts approved by Boards of Commissioners, test the machines and train election workers how to use them by early 2020.

Hardister said that, at this late date, it’s really outrageous that a group – mostly Democratic lawmakers – is fighting a previously widely accepted extension that would allow the current machines to be used until the end of 2020.

“It seemed like it was not really a contentious subject, but all of the sudden it is,” said a frustrated Hardister this week after he’d helped fight off the first political effort to force the purchase of the machines by the end of this year.

Hardister said that he’d spoken with Guilford County commissioners who, like him, were concerned that Guilford County may have to now change gears and hastily switch over to entirely new election machines almost certainly at a greater cost – at a time when the county has well functioning and capable machines it could use.

Guilford County will spend an estimated $7 million to $8 million to buy the new machines. Other counties will spend millions as well.

On Wednesday, Aug. 28, Guilford County Board of Elections Charlie Collicutt said he was following the new developments closely. He said that, ideally, in order to purchase new machines for March of 2020, he would have liked to have begun the process by Jan.1, 2019 so it is clearly not ideal to get that process underway in September.