Clerk: No plans to replace DuPage voting machines in 2020

As a former election watchdog, Jean Kaczmarek long criticized DuPage County's touch-screen voting machines.

But as county clerk, Kaczmarek says there isn't enough time or money to replace the devices before next year's primary and general elections. So the plan is to continue using them at DuPage's early voting sites in 2020.

"The current system is less than ideal," Kaczmarek said Monday. "But we can squeeze a little more life from it. It's not great, but the integrity of the election is not in doubt."

She pointed out that most DuPage residents vote using paper ballots.

Kaczmarek's comments came nearly a week after residents called on county board members to replace DuPage's voting machines.

Democrat Lynn LaPlante, who ran last year for county board chairman, spoke to the panel about problems that occurred during her election. Last October, two touch-screen machines at early voting sites - one in Glen Ellyn and another in Downers Grove - were replaced as a precautionary measure after reports of malfunctions.

At the time, a voter told the Daily Herald that every time he tried to vote for LaPlante using a touch-screen machine, it showed him voting for incumbent Republican Dan Cronin. The Glen Ellyn man simply decided not to vote in that race.

"The incredulous experience of having a vote changed electronically before your very eyes is hard to read about, especially if you are the candidate who didn't get the vote that was intended for you," said LaPlante, who lost to Cronin by 7,314 votes.

LaPlante, who is now running for a county board seat, said DuPage's voting machines are "old and outdated."

"I do not feel confident that these same machines that malfunctioned in 2018 will somehow magically work properly in 2020," she said.

Kaczmarek said she shares the "legitimate concerns" that residents have about the touch-screen voting machines.

"But those issues can be addressed with proper oversight," she said.

The DuPage County Election Commission purchased the touch-screen machines in 2006. Back then, Kaczmarek was among those who said the devices were vulnerable to tampering.

The Glen Ellyn Democrat says her criticism of the machines is one of the reasons she decided to run for county clerk. After the election commission was dissolved in January, the newly elected Kaczmarek oversaw the transfer of its functions to the clerk's office.

But when Kaczmarek presented her first budget request for the clerk's office since the merger, she didn't ask the county board for money to replace the voting machines.

"A new voting system would cost the county $10 million to $15 million," she said. "So it needs to be done the right way. An investment like this takes time, and it's separate from the regular budgeting process."

She said her office has been talking with congressional representatives about getting DuPage federal funding for the machines. Efforts to find funding will continue.

In the meantime, Kaczmarek said the election division of the clerk's office will take "extra precautions" with the touch-screen machines in 2020. That will include "robust testing" early next year and possible auditing of results "above and beyond what is required by the law."

"We will have proper oversight," she said.

While DuPage will have to wait for new voting machines, the clerk's office is expected to get $1.5 million to purchase 1,000 electronic poll books to replace 900 aging devices. Electronic poll books are used to check in voters at polling places.

"We are very pleased that we're moving forward with new electronic poll books for 2020," Kaczmarek said. "That equipment was our top priority."

Lynn LaPlante
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