DuPage County to seek proposals for new election equipment
DuPage County is in the market for new voting equipment that its top election official says would replace an outdated system and make the election process "better and faster."
County Clerk Jean Kaczmarek is preparing to issue a request for proposals for enhanced election equipment and services that use entirely paper ballots, she told the county board's finance committee this week.
Though election officials have not moved beyond early talks with vendors, she said, baseline estimates suggest upgrading the system for the county's 625,000 registered voters could cost between $10 million and $11 million.
The hardware warranty and license agreements for the county's current equipment are set to expire, at which point the software will no longer be supported, according to a recent notice from vendor Dominion Voting.
That means DuPage County will be incapable of legally running a certified election using that system, Kaczmarek said, leaving her office no choice but to purchase new equipment before next year's primary election.
The new voting system will be compatible with a ballot sorter and other equipment purchased last year as part of the state's temporary vote-by-mail expansion program, Kaczmarek said. It also is expected to better accommodate a shift in voting patterns and polling place turnout, she said, pointing to the increased popularity of mail-in ballots in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"In 2022, we will be required to provide full accessibility to the electoral process with vote-by-mail, early voting and Election Day options," Kaczmarek said. "We must be prepared for everything. We can no longer wait."
Having purchased its optical scan equipment for paper ballots in 2001, followed by ADA-compliant touch screen machines five years later, DuPage has some of the oldest voting equipment in Chicago and the suburbs, she said. The $8.4 million total cost of those systems was reimbursed through the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002, with smaller grants made annually to cover cybersecurity and voter registration costs.
A federal election overhaul bill, known as H.R. 1, would provide states additional money for voting equipment, Kaczmarek said. But with the legislative proposal still on the table, she said, "there is no funding at this time for major purchases."
Unable to budget for an expense upward of $10 million, the county would likely use reserves to pay for the new election system, said board member Elizabeth Chaplin, finance committee chairwoman.
"It's a perfect use for reserves because it's a one-time capital investment," she said.
Demands outlined in the request for proposals are expected to include high-level security and accuracy protections; high-speed mail-in ballot scanners; expedited accuracy testing, write-in tabulation and postelection auditing; choices for voters with disabilities who need assistance; compatibility with the county's existing KNOWiNK poll books; ranked voting capability and multilingual options; and election night reporting enhancements, according to Kaczmarek's presentation.
The finance committee gave Kaczmarek the green light to seek bids, with several members voicing their support for a more efficient election system. Once a vendor is selected, the contract proposal will be brought back to the committee and then considered by the full county board.
"I know it has not been easy running three elections with some voting equipment that we know has been a long time coming in need of replacement," board member Julie Renehan said. "I think residents are going to be very glad to hear we're moving this forward."