To prepare for redistricting and back-to-back elections in the fall of 2022 and spring of 2023, Duval’s county elections office is asking the City Council to boost its budget from $6.9 million to $9.4 million, a 35 percent increase.
The new budget will allow the Duval County Supervisor of Elections office to replace what it says are outdated equipment, bring on a new employee, cut down on voting lines, notify residents of their new districts and begin purchasing mail-ballot envelopes.
Despite the significant request, the office’s budget will continue to be lower than it was in peak years a decade ago, when adjusted for inflation.
New Voting Machines
One of the biggest expenses in the budget request is the replacement of voting machines. The AutoMARK ballot-marking machines are almost a decade old, and Chief Elections Officer Robert Phillips, said the office can no longer get new parts or replacements for the machines. These specific voting machines are the only ones in Duval County that provide accessible use, according to Verified Voting.
The office plans on replacing the machines with a new one called ExpressVote. This ballot-marking machine is a touchscreen and Phillips says that this machine will help disabled voters cast their ballot independently.
The ExpressVote is a machine from Election Systems & Software. Duval County currently uses two other ES&S machines for the Hand-Fed Optical Scanner at polling sites and the Batch-Fed Optical Scanner at Duval County’s tabulation center.
The ExpressVote machine can print out a paper ballot, which then can be scanned with the other ballots, or it could electronically count the voter’s ballot and not print out a ballot.
ES&S has been put under scrutiny for their ExpressVote XL – the upgraded version of the ExpressVote — which didn’t record votes correctly in Northampton County, Pa., in 2019.
Mark Lindeman, Verified Voting’s acting co-director, told The Tributary the main concern of the ExpressVote is that the machine could be used as an electronic tabulator. He says that having paper ballots will help keep elections accurate.
“What we worry about most is attacks that the election can’t easily survive, like if you were all voting on machines and the machines go down. So there are no paper ballots. There are no handmade paper ballots. Basically, no one is voting,” Lindeman said. “Or if the machines start printing different votes than the votes you entered, how do you recover from that? If you don’t have paper ballots as a backup, you’re lost.”
The ExpressVote will only be used as a ballot marker and not a tabulator in Duval County. According to Verified Voting, this machine is currently being used in St. Johns, Clay and Flagler counties.
The Duval Supervisor of Elections Office also wants to upgrade the inserter for the Relia-Vote, the machine that handles vote-by-mail ballots at the county’s official tabulation center.
”The current inserter parts have reached end of life, so we are replacing the inserter, but the capabilities and functions will remain the same. The voters will not see any difference in their Vote-By-Mail ballot or process,” Phillips said.
It will cost $1.8 million to replace and upgrade all of the machines. Phillips says the price is worth it, and the machines shouldn’t need to be replaced again for another decade.
“That will take us through the next ten years. So those are two big ticket items that we have coming up this year that we don’t normally have on a year-to-year expense,” Phillips said.
After City Council approves new maps for council and School Board districts in the coming months, the Duval elections office must notify residents of their new districts and representatives.
“When you’re mailing out to everybody in the county first-class mail and the new voter information card, we figure that’s going to run about eight-hundred thousand dollars for materials and postage,” Phillips said.
While this information won’t be mailed out until the summer of 2022, it could still impact the School Board elections in the latter part of 2022 and the City Council elections in early 2023.
The elections office also budgeted for more voter check-in stations at polling locations to help with lines. The office is asking to add one more full-time employee to help prepare for the coming 2022 and 2023 elections. The primary election for the School Board will take place in August of 2022 and then a runoff School Board election could happen in November.
The office plans to begin buying vote-by-mail envelopes to prepare for the elections.
Duval County Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan will be term-limited in 2023 when city-wide elections will determine his successor.
The City Council Finance Committee will review the proposed budget today.