The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to commit the county to an $8.7 million investment in voting equipment leases and upgrades in preparation for the 2020 elections.
“Our vote today reflects the Board of Supervisors’ commitment to democracy in Riverside County and the integrity of our elections,” said Supervisor Chuck Washington.
He and Supervisor Karen Spiegel recommended the investment based on hearings they’ve held over the last few months as part of an ad hoc committee overseeing the Office of the Registrar of Voters.
The pair noted in a document posted to the board’s agenda that the current voting system “is experiencing an increased rate of break-downs and requires a significant staffing effort and time commitment to maintain and operate.”
Over the last 20 years, they said, an estimated $31.25 million has been spent on maintenance and procurement of voting system hardware. The county shifted to manual voting and away from touchscreen digital voting in early 2008 after then-California Secretary of State Debra Bowen determined e-voting systems were highly vulnerable to hack attacks.
Since then, the county has relied primarily on paper ballots, which have to be verified and tabulated by hand and via high-speed scanners.
Registrar of Voters Rebecca Spencer told the board that the California Secretary of State’s office had determined the county’s current apparatus was no longer adequate and needed to be replaced by March 2020.
Spiegel and Washington said the need for more efficient and faster tabulation has grown significantly in the last decade because the vast majority of county voters — over 500,000 — now cast their ballots by mail, and vote-by-mail ballots are harder to sort.
According to the supervisors, the “re-conditioned” high-speed scanners currently in use require a service technician to be available “at all times” during election periods.
The goal going forward is to have the lion’s share of ballot counting finished on election night, the supervisors said.
The board voted in favor of leasing a “Democracy Suite Voting System” — with eight-year-long support contracts — provided by Toronto-based Dominion Voting Systems Inc. The system consists of a high-speed optical scan tabulator, signature verifier and a host of related software.
The board also approved utilizing Danbury, Connecticut- based BlueCrest Inc.’s Vantage mail sorting hardware to expedite the processing of mail-in ballots. The contract with BlueCrest includes a five-year service agreement.
State grants will offset some of the county’s costs for the equipment.
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