A $15.3 million three-year contract for voting equipment to replace machines that are now so out of date needed parts and computer technical support services are no longer available was approved Tuesday by the Orange County Board of Supervisors.
The board voted 4-0, with Supervisor Don Wagner absent, to approve the contract with Hart InterCivic Inc., which has been providing maintenance services for the county’s voting machines for the last 15 years.
The approval was almost derailed by a last-minute appeal from the next closest bidder, Omaha-based Election Systems & Software which touted its bid as costing $560,000 less.
Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley said his staff recommended Hart because integrating its equipment and software will be much easier and faster to do with the county’s existing machines.
Also, the Hart system was deemed as more user friendly by the Registrar’s staff, Kelley said.
And the Hart system is the only one of the bidders that is certified by the state.
Hart also offers paper backup copies of ballots, which is critically important in the digital era with the threat of hacking, Kelley said.
“Having a human, readable ballot in the case of a breach or some cyber event… without question is the recommendation across the United States from national organizations,” Kelley said.
Supervisor Michelle Steel questioned whether any of the other bidders would have mattered or been given serious consideration given that the Registrar’s staff doesn’t think a new system from one of the other bidders could be in place in time for next year’s elections.
However, Kelley assured the supervisors that if they wanted to pick one of the other bidders he would do what he could to get through another election but first he would have to get the state Secretary of State’s Office to sign off on another election with the old equipment, and there would be significant risks since some of the equipment needed to fix the county’s machines are no longer available and software suppliers will not service some programs, Kelley said.
“There (would be) a tremendous risk to the election,” Kelley said. “And I think that’s something you should take into consideration.”
Adding to the confusion, in next year’s elections, voters, for the first time, will go to “vote centers” anywhere in the county to drop off or cast a ballot instead of just one assigned precinct.
Supervisor Andrew Do said he has such high respect for Kelley that he would usually defer to him, but he also said the request for proposal process is important to weigh as well. Do favored ES&S but changed his mind when Kelley explained the difficulty in getting a new system in place in time for next year’s March primary election.
Supervisor Doug Chaffee supported Kelley’s recommendation and did not share Do’s view that it was a virtual tie between ES&S and Hart.
“There is a substantial difference in the overall scores,” Chaffee said.
“The other thing that really bothers me is the risk to the election,” Chaffee said of ES&S’ bid. “I don’t want to put that to risk in any respect… We’re looking at the most precious thing we have.”
Chaffee added that his staff investigated both systems and preferred Hart’s.
“My staff reviewed both systems and found the Hart system substantially more user friendly,” Chaffee siad.
Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Lisa Bartlett said she was “really torn,” but said the timing issue tilted toward Hart.
“I think we need to move forward with the current vendor… so we have a secure process for the March primary,” Bartlett said.
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