published Saturday, August 17th, 2013

Bradley County election panel recommends keeping MicroVote machines

CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- The Bradley County Election Commission wants to upgrade the county's voting machines instead of buying optical scan technology.

On Friday, the Election Commission voted 4-1 at a special meeting to recommend the county enter into an eight-year agreement with MicroVote, the manufacturer of the electronic voting panels that the county has used for several years. Dana Burgner cast the opposing vote.

Election officials, county commissioners and members of the Bradley County Democratic Party discussed factors such as cost, service, transportation of machines to precincts and the future of electronic voting systems.

The estimated cost per election amounted to $41,490 for an upgraded MicroVote system, compared to $63,944 for an optical scan system. The $15,625 annual maintenance program for the optical scan system was almost double that for MicroVote, which costs $8,857.

"There's also that one unknown factor ... of what if the state injects itself into the system and declares or demands that we change to a scanner system," said Jim Minor, a member of the executive committee of the Bradley County Democratic Party. "One year, two years ... five years out -- we're left holding the bag, and we'll have to refinance a new system."

County Commissioner Ed Elkins said it's unlikely that the state would force such a change soon.

Considering the higher cost for adopting the optical scan system, members of the Tennessee Legislature would "have a huge price to pay" from the constituents back home if they made such a move, he said.

Minor asked the Election Commission to delay its decision for 30 to 90 days, stating that the public was not truly informed on the choice of technologies and that this created a "lack of reasonable input" into the process. Minor said he had no preference for either system.

A recommendation needed to be made to the County Commission as soon as possible, said Oscar Kelley, secretary for the Election Commission. Discussions, including system demonstrations, had taken place over the last year and nothing new was expected to be learned months from now, he said.

Another timing concern was the availability of state funding, said Theba Hamilton, election commission chairwoman.

The state will pay for the equipment, whether the county upgrades its MicroVote machines or adopts a new optical scan system, but only so long as there is money still in the grant fund, Hamilton said.

The grant funds required to cover the MicroVote upgrade amount to $143,000, said Fran Green, election administrator for Bradley County.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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