TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Decade-old voting equipment is quickly aging in nearly half of Florida's counties, and there has been a struggle at the local level to secure money to cover the replacement costs.
Secretary of State Ken Detzner said he will meet next month in Orlando with local election supervisors to determine which counties are most in need of new equipment before the 2016 elections.
"It's kind of one of those things that you don't think about until something happens," Detzner said this week. "We know we need to do something."
Detzner estimated that about 30 counties might need new equipment or upgrades, but he declined to specify the counties.
Duval County Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland, the president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections, expects Detzner to come out of the meeting next month with a list of counties that are most at risk of running elections that could fail without new equipment.
"He has the authority to de-certify equipment," Holland said. "He can easily tell the county commissions, 'Listen, this equipment is not worthy of going forward.' Then the county supervisors have the ability to go to their county commissioners and say, 'It's not a luxury but a necessity.' "
Holland also declined to say which counties face urgent upgrades.
It's up to local county commissions, some still smarting from a rush to bring in state-of-the-art electronic touch screen equipment after the state's controversial 2000 election, to fund the bulk of the latest replacement costs.
"Some of the equipment is old, some as old as 10 years old," Detzner said. "And we'll be evaluating that, working with the supervisors and their local county commission to make sure they get funded in preparation for 2016."
Holland said most computer technology is reaching obsolescence at a decade, including programs simply designed to count ballots.
Most Florida counties now use optical-scan technology, where voters mark paper ballot choices by filling in bubbles or connecting arrows before sliding the paper through electronic tabulators.
Tabulators at each precinct tally those votes and, depending upon the equipment, can quickly transmit the results from the precinct to a supervisor's headquarters after the polls are closed.
It's the tabulators, which individually cost about $4,000, that are most in need of being replaced with the latest technology, Holland said. Updating tabulators also requires new software.
With about 200 precincts and 18 early-voting locations, Duval County spent about $1.4 million before the 2012 election to update its voting equipment. The county spent about $1.6 million after the election on electronic poll books that are intended to cut down the time at the polls for voters by reducing paperwork.
"You can get through an election without the latest technology, but the problem is you then have a competence factor," Holland said. "The voter starts asking, 'Why couldn't I put my ballot in the machine? What are they going to do with my ballot if they couldn't tabulate it at the (polling) location?' Those issues erode confidence in an election. That's why you don't want go to the point where your equipment is faulty."
The supervisors association conference, which will be held the week of Dec. 7, will also feature a discussion with Detzner on how to prepare for what is expected to be an increase in the use of early-voting locations and absentee voting for the presidential contest in two years.