DuPage clerk weighs options after county board narrowly rejects voting system overhaul

  • DuPage County Clerk Jean Kaczmarek looks over a new mail-in ballot machine that sorts the ballots and authenticates signatures last year.

    DuPage County Clerk Jean Kaczmarek looks over a new mail-in ballot machine that sorts the ballots and authenticates signatures last year. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer, August 2020

 
 
Posted9/20/2021 5:10 AM

The DuPage County clerk's office had hoped to soon start training election workers on new voting equipment in preparation for the June 2022 primary.

But a bid to replace an outdated electoral system -- so obsolete that it runs on Windows 2003 -- fell one vote short of county board approval.

 

What happens next is an open question. Hardware warranty and license agreements for the aging equipment are set to expire. The county's existing vendor, Dominion Voting, told election officials it will no longer provide support for the system beginning with the new year, Chief Deputy Clerk Adam Johnson said.

"We've been having discussions both internally and with other county departments to identify what the options are," Johnson said. "And we're still in those discussions right now."

The clerk's office sought board approval for a $10.6 million, 10-year contract with another voting vendor, Texas-based Hart InterCivic Inc. Eleven of the 18 board members supported the clerk's plan during a finance committee meeting last week.

But with all the Republican board members in opposition, mostly due to the contract's price tag, the 11-7 tally was one vote short of the supermajority needed to allocate $6.9 million in county funds for the upfront costs of updating election machinery.

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The vote came three weeks after board members tabled a decision following a lengthy debate.

"We've already had to push our training timeline back because the system hasn't been approved yet," Johnson said. "We had intended to begin training very shortly."

The clerk's office recommended Hart, in part because the county would make the shift to entirely paper ballots.

"No matter how you vote, you will have a consistent voter experience, and your ballot will be counted and audited in the same manner," Johnson told board members.

After three months of staff review, Hart also became the vendor of choice because of its "state-of-the-art security encryption" and customer service reviews, Johnson said. DuPage officials checked references on visits with election authorities in other counties.

Even with a new system, the clerk's office has no plans to remotely transmit election results from polling places as many other counties do. Hart does not use modem transmission of results, Johnson said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Just as a security procedure, we're not looking to implement that at this time," he said.

Instead, DuPage adheres to a long-standing practice of having election judges hand-deliver memory cards from voting machines to the county complex in Wheaton. Critics have blamed the process for delaying the release of results on election night.

"One of the requirements that we asked for was the contractor has the ability to modem results," said GOP board member Brian Krajewski, referring to a request for proposals issued by the clerk's office. "What's been the biggest complaint in DuPage County over the last several elections? It's been the timeliness of us putting stuff up on the website."

Of the four bids submitted to the county, Election Systems & Software came in with the lowest at $5.3 million. Two other vendors offered to do the job for nearly $8.2 million and $7.2 million, respectively.

"Ultimately, the Hart system might be a good system, but to me, that's not the question," said board member Greg Hart, a Republican. "The question is about the price. Is the difference in why we selected it worth $1.6 million to $5 million more? And I just haven't heard that."

When ancillary costs were taken into account over the 10 years, the "vendor prices were very competitive with each other," Johnson said.

"Hart's system would not require us to preprint ballots in the same manner as other systems that were proposed," Johnson said, "and so that's a major cost savings."

Hart has supplied Kane County with equipment, but DuPage would be getting a newer, upgraded system. Johnson said DuPage would be the first county in Illinois to implement the newer version of the software.

"It also has the highest certification in the state, and the newest technology, so Hart by far is a superior system compared to the others that bid," said Liz Chaplin, chair of the board's finance committee and a Democratic member.

She said Hart was thoroughly vetted and that opponents had overly dissected the request for proposals. The county, Chaplin said, has a statutory duty to fund elections.

In a statement, DuPage County Clerk Jean Kaczmarek said she's "determined to provide the people of DuPage County with the best voting system."

"I'm proud of all the work my staff has done to make sure that happens," she said.

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