More than $1M spent on new voting equipment in Norfolk

WAVY/LaVoy Harrell

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia voters will head to the polls in less than two weeks. When some voters get there, they can expect some changes.

That’s because the Virginia Department of Elections has blocked the use of touch-screen voting machines over concerns the equipment could be hacked.

All Virginia voters will now use paper ballots. It’s a major overhaul in cities like Norfolk.

“We’re replacing everything,” Michael Khandelwal, Norfolk Electoral Board Vice Chair, said.

The price tag is more than one million tax payer dollars.

Related: Registrars work to replace decertified voting machines

“Our goal was for next year to have a much better voter experience and now we’re just bringing it a little bit earlier,” Khandelwal said.

He told 10 On Your Side’s Brandi Cummings the city was already preparing for the change that was originally required in 2020.

“It really didn’t hit us out of the blue and fortunately we had already decided on a system to buy anyway,” he said.

In all, 22 localities are impacted by this ruling including: Chesapeake, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Gloucester, Poquoson and Surry. For some, it’s a hefty price tag.

Portsmouth will lease equipment for this election, which comes at an $18,240 cost. Chesapeake purchased equipment, costing taxpayers $738,081.33.

All of the equipment arrived before absentee voting began in September.

Khandelwal said in Norfolk, the new system should make things run more smoothly.

Cummings asked, “Will this mean longer lines?” To which Khandelwal responded, “Actually, I think it will mean shorter lines.”

As for the hacking concerns, Khandelwal said Norfolk’s process, which was already in place, prevents that from happening.

“We’re very cognoscente of making sure that everything is by the book and as fair to every voter as possible so we’ve never really been concerned because we researched to find out if we should be concerned and we realized no I think we have a good system in place,” he said.


10 On Your Side contacted all of the Hampton Roads registrar about this recent ruling:

CHESAPEAKE

Mary Lynn Pinkermanm, the city’s general registrar:

The City of Chesapeake was prepared to replace its voting system in 2020 as mandated by the General Assembly. However, on Friday, September 8, 2017 Direct Recording Electronic (“DRE” or “touchscreen”) voting machines were decertified for use in the Commonwealth. The result of this decertification was that the City of Chesapeake was responsible for immediately obtaining new voting equipment that has been certified by the State Board of Elections (“SBE”), pursuant to Code of Virginia §24.2-626.

In 2011, Chesapeake switched from using all DREs to Optical Scan; however, there was still one DRE per polling place (64) for ADA compliance.  Virginia Election Law § 24.2-626.1 requires the governing body of any county or city shall provide for at least one voting system equipped for individuals with disabilities at each polling place, including nonvisual accessibility for the blind and visually impaired, in a manner that provides the same opportunity for access and participation (including privacy and independence) as for other voters.

The City of Chesapeake could not purchase the current ADA compliant Ballot-Marking Devices to be used in conjunction with the existing optical scan voting system as the Ballot Marking Devices were not compatible with the older optical scan voting system.

The new voting equipment (74 optical scans and 70 Ballot-marking devices) arrived in time for the City of Chesapeake to begin absentee voting on September 22nd for the November election as required by law.  All of the new equipment has been tested and is programmed and ready for the November 7, 2017 General and Special Elections. The total cost of the new system and support cost $738,081.33.

The City’s Electoral Board is not aware of any specific incidences, nor have there been any indications, of hacking or other such concerns with the touch screen voting machines used here in the City of Chesapeake.

HAMPTON

I’d like to know what impact it has had on your city?

Tara W. Morgan, Hampton’s general registrar: The Virginia Board of elections decertifying the use of DRE/touch-screen voting machines in the upcoming elections had no impact on the City of Hampton.  Our locality never voted  100% DRE. Each precinct had 1 Accuvote machine which was a tabulator that scanned the paper ballot plus 1 DRE touchscreen which we had available as our ADA compliant machine. In September 2015, we purchased new equipment which included the DS200 digital scanner and ADA compliant ExpressVote marking device. The ExpressVote does not record any votes, the voter selects who/what they are voting for via a touchpad or by touching the screen. Once the voter has made their selections, their ballot is printed and the voter places the printed ballot to the DS200 digital scanner.

Can you tell me what has had to happen because of this ruling? N/A

How many total voting machines do you have?

Morgan: The City of Hampton has 46 DS200 digital scanners and 36 ExpressVote ADA compliant marking devices

How many are/were touch screen?

Morgan: Prior to September 2015, we had 30 DRE touchscreen machines

What is happening now to make sure you are in compliance with this ruling?

Morgan: We were in compliance before the decertification took place.

Have you had any instances in past elections where you believed the touch screen machines were hacked?

Morgan: No, our DRE touch-screen voting equipment was never accessible to the internet.

NEWPORT NEWS

I’d like to know what impact it has had on your city?

Vicki Lewis, Newport News registrar: Did not impact Newport News. We have had an optical scan voting system since 1995. We replaced that system with a newer optical scan system in 2015.

Can you tell me what has had to happen because of this ruling?

Lewis: Newport News was not impacted.

How many total voting machines do you have?

Lewis: 65

How many are/were touch screen?

Lewis: None

What is happening now to make sure you are in compliance with this ruling?

Lewis: Doesn’t apply to Newport News

Have you had any instances in past elections where you believed the touch screen machines were hacked?

Lewis: No

NORFOLK

Brandi: I’d like to know what impact it has had on your city?

Stephanie L. Iles, director of elections and general registrar: The City of Norfolk has had to purchase new voting equipment and supporting supplies to comply with this decertification of electronic touchscreen voting equipment.  This was an unfunded mandate for the City of Norfolk.  There is an upfront cost for equipment.  There will be additional increased costs going forward for each election to purchase paper ballots.  Additional storage was required at Norfolk Circuit Court to store paper ballots (both voted & unvoted) for the required 2 year retention period under State Law.

Brandi: Can you tell me what has had to happen because of this ruling?

Iles: 22 localities, including the City of Norfolk, had to procure new voting equipment in an extremely short time span.  All training materials must be updated.  All Officers of  Election will receive training on the new equipment, distribution of paper ballots, order of polling place, and results reporting.  As this decertification by the State Board of Elections was completed on September 8th and absentee voting began on September 22nd, this allows very little, if any time, for voter outreach to be conducted as we are preparing for the election, acceptance testing new equipment, completing logistics and accuracy testing, programming equipment, processing voter registrations, and conducting absentee voting.  We would have appreciated more time to be able to conduct voter outreach in the community regarding the transition from electronic systems to paper ballots with optical scanners.  To change voting systems before a large voter turnout election such as a Gubernatorial is not recommended.  When all eyes are focused on the Commonwealth with this 2017 Gubernatorial Election, we want Election Day to proceed without any complications or issues.  We hope the voters have a pleasant voting experience.

How many total voting machines do you have? 

Iles: The City of Norfolk previously had 325 electronic touchscreen voting machines.

How many are/were touch screen? 

Iles: Please see above response

What is happening now to make sure you are in compliance with this ruling? 

Iles: New equipment has been procured, accepted, tested & programmed. We are in the process of training Officers of Election for the election.

Have you had any instances in past elections where you believed the touch screen machines were hacked? 

Iles:NO!!  Our electronic touchscreen voting equipment was never on the internet. There is restricted access to our voting equipment and we do not permit access to outside persons. We require a minimum of 2 persons security at all times with voting and Pollbook systems. In order to “hack” equipment, access must be given, whether intentionally or not. As our systems we were not attached to the internet and we do not permit access to our voting systems, we are confident that our touch screen machines were never “hacked.”

PORTSMOUTH

I’d like to know what impact this has had on your city.

Deloris Overton Short, general registrar and director of elections: Earlier this year and prior to the decertification of DREs, the Electoral Board voted to recommend the purchase of new voting equipment. The City Council approved the purchase of the DS200 Precinct Scanner along with the ExpressVote Universal Voting System from Election Systems & Software (ES&S). We will take delivery of the new voting equipment in January of 2018.

The majority of our voters cast their ballots using the AccuVote Optical Scanner which has been in use since 1997. One direct-recording electronic (DRE) TSX voting machine was used in each of our 32 precincts, including the Central Absentee Precinct (CAP), to be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In response to the decertification of DREs, the City of Portsmouth will lease 32 AutoMark Voter Assist Terminals for this election only.  In the last five years, only two of our 60,000 plus voters have used the TSX voting machine.

The financial impact on the decertification of the TSX voting equipment is as follows:

To lease 32 AutoMark Voter Assist Terminals with tables, the cost is $18,240. The installation and shipping cost is $7,880. ES&S will provide us with a credit of the $18,240 towards the purchase of our new voting equipment per the contract.

Can you tell me what has had to happen because of this ruling?

Short: The City of Portsmouth is leasing 32 AutoMark Voter Assist Terminals to replace 32 TSXs because of the decertification of DRE voting machines. The AutoMark is a ballot marking device. Unlike the TSX, it does not record and store encrypted ballot information and election results. After the ballot is marked, the machine prints the voter’s choices and ejects the ballot. The voter then inserts the marked ballot into the  optical scanner. We have trained our election officers on this new equipment and are confident that we will have a smooth election day.

How many total voting machines do you have? 

Short: We have 55 Optical Scanners and 32 AutoMark Voter Assist Terminals.

How many are/were touch screens? 

Short: The 32 AutoMark Voter Assist Terminals, like the TSX, have touchscreen capability.

What is happening now to make sure you are in compliance with this ruling? 

Short: We will remain in compliance through our leasing of the 32 AutoMark Voter Assist Terminals from ES&S.

Have you had any instances in past elections where you believed the touch screen machines were hacked? 

Short: Not at all; our TSX voting machines were not connected to the internet.

SUFFOLK

I’d like to know what impact it has had on your city?

Susan Saunders, Suffolk registrar: The City of Suffolk obtained and started utilizing optical scan voting machines in 2015, so it had no impact on our locality.

Can you tell me what has had to happen because of this ruling?

Saunders: As explained in the previous question, the City of Suffolk has utilized optical scan voting machines since 2015.

How many total voting machines do you have? 

Saunders: Thirty-three

How many are/were touch screen?

Saunders: None

What is happening now to make sure you are in compliance with this ruling? N/A

Have you had any instances in past elections where you believed the touch screen machines were hacked?

Saunders: No

VIRGINIA BEACH

Christine Lewis, Deputy Registrar, responded with the following:

The City of Virginia Beach did not have to purchase new voting machines. We switched to digital scanners back in 2015.

We have 120 of the DS200 digital scanners and 120 express vote ballot marking machines.

We have never had any instances of hacking when we had the touchscreen voting machines. They were “stand alone” machines that were not connected to the internet.


The General Election is Nov. 7. Polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.

The deadline to request an absentee ballot be mailed is on Tuesday, Oct. 31. The deadline to request and absentee ballot in person is Nov. 4.