An amended Ohio Senate bill might contain the funding solution to new voting machines, officials said.
At issue is a reworked Senate Bill 135, sponsored by State Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Copley, originally created to provide a funding mechanism to update voting equipment. Substitute legislation announced Thursday would provide $114.5 million to ease the burden on county election boards.
Duane Feher, deputy director of the Ashtabula County Board of Elections, is a member of a state task force created in 2013 to examine Ohio’s voting machine inventory, which hasn’t seen a major overhaul in more than 10 years. Feher said Friday he was enthusiastic about the bill.
“This is a real positive step,” he said. “I’m very excited about it. This is a landmark piece of legislation.”
The task force is a joint initiative of the County Commissioners Association of Ohio and the Ohio Association of Election Officials. Both organizations have now endorsed SB 135.
The bill would allocate $10 million in general revenue funds to reimburse counties that have already purchased new equipment. The balance would be dispersed among counties on a per-registered voter formula:
• Between zero and 19,000 registered
voters would receive $205,000
• Between 20,000-99,000 voters would see $250,000
• more than 100,000 voters would receive $406,000
Some 61,298 Ashtabula County residents were registered to vote in November’s general election.
The balance of the voting machine funding would be distributed proportionally to each county on a per-voter basis. A county with 10 percent of the state’s registered voters would receive 10 percent of the remaining funds, LaRose said in a statement.
The end result is the state would pick up between 75 and 80 percent of the cost of new voting equipment, Feher said. Ashtabula County officials have estimated about a $1 million price tag for its purchases.
Ashtabula County Commissioner Casey Kozlowski said Friday the bill is a boon for counties.
“It does go a long way to help fund voting machines,” he said. “We recognize we will need new machines in rather short order, and we appreciate the willingness of the state (to help fund the purchase).”
Kozlowski is a member of the board of directors of the CCAO, a group that has been promoting a funding solution.
“I’ve been pretty active in discussions,” he said. “We’ve been lobbying pretty hard.”
In addition, the substitute SB 135 would create a bi-partisan committee charged with negotiating with vendors to obtain the best equipment at the lowest price possible.
Substitute SB 135 enjoys bi-partisan support, which could result in passage this year with funding to follow in 2019, Feher said. That timetable would allow election boards to have new equipment in place well in advance of the 2020 presidential election, he said.
“We’re at the point now where a lot of things have taken place,” Feher said. “Everybody is supporting this. It looks like it has a good chance of getting funded.”
The Help America Vote Act of 2002 led to Ohio’s most recent voting equipment upgrade in 2004 and 2005. LaRose, a candidate for Ohio secretary of state in November, praised the “ingenuity and creativity” of election boards to keep their machinery running, according to the statement.
Lake County Commissioner Daniel Troy, chairman of the CCAO, praised the bill.
“The pressure on county budgets to provide for the myriad components of conducting elections has been increasing at a rate greater than our revenues,” Troy said in a separate statement. “This apparent willingness by the General Assembly to work with the (CCAO) and the (OAEO) to address this election administration infrastructure need is certainly in the best interests of our citizens and our democracy.”
Jocelyn Bucaro, OAEO president, was equally effusive.
“Sub SB 135 is the culmination of years of effort by local election officials and county commissioners to
raise awareness of
the dire need to replace Ohio’s aging voting equipment,” she said in a statement. “We are pleased that the
state legislature is willing to step up in a big way to assist counties and ensure that our critical election infrastructure is secure and reliable for Ohio’s voters.”
Feher, who said the funding bill will help make elections more “secure,” thanked county board members and director Carol Lovas for supporting his participation on the state task force.