Politics & Government

‘Our machines stink.’ Blevins seeking millions for new voting machines in Lexington.

Fayette County voters turning out in force Tuesday morning

Fayette County is experiencing a larger voter turnout than usual creating long wait times. Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday for elections in Lexington and across Kentucky.
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Fayette County is experiencing a larger voter turnout than usual creating long wait times. Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday for elections in Lexington and across Kentucky.

Fayette County’ Clerk Don Blevins Jr. told the Lexington council Tuesday he will request up to $2 million in coming months to replace decade-old voting machines that were partly to blame for long lines at precincts in November.

“Our machines stink,” said Blevins, who oversees elections in Fayette County. “It’s time. We need to replace these machines.”

Lexington has about 1,000 Hart eSlate machines, which use a wheel that voters turn to highlight their choice on the ballot. Voters then push a button to make the highlighted choice. Most precincts only have a couple machines, which creates long lines when the ballot is lengthy.

The machines can be attached to another machine that prints the completed paper ballot, but Lexington does not use those. That means there is no printed record of an individual’s vote.

“We have 13-year-old machines, about 25 percent have been purchased since 2006,” Blevins said. “They are now aging and we are seeing problems and it’s getting worse.”

Fayette County Clerk Don Blevins Jr. wants the city to help pay for new voting machines because the current ones are out-of-date, break down and contributed to long lines during the November general election.

A higher-than-expected voter turn out also contributed to long wait times on Nov. 6, Blevins told the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council’s General Government and Social Services Committee.

Blevins said he will ask for additional money to purchase new machines for the upcoming budget, which begins July 1. Blevins said it could cost as much as $2.9 million to replace the machines, but he expects that price quote to decline once the project is competitively bid. In addition, $965,000 in federal funds are set aside to help offset the cost, and more federal money might be available, he said.

Most Kentucky counties now use paper ballots and scanning machines to vote, he said.

Blevins cautioned that there are ongoing costs associated with a paper ballot system, including $120,000 per year for software upgrades, upwards of $38,000 to print general fund ballots and other costs.

The current voting machines were bought in 2005 and 2006, when people were still reeling from the “hanging chad” debacle of the 2000 presidential election between Al Gore and George W. Bush, which was decided by a few paper punch ballots that were difficult to decipher.

The eSlate machines were the best the city could buy at the time, he said, but people now want their votes to have a paper trail because of election security concerns, he said.

“Five, six, ten people can fill out a ballot at once, decreasing wait times,” Blevins said. “The ballots are then scanned electronically.”

Councilman Fred Brown put the issue of long lines at the polls into the General Government and Social Services Committee after getting complaints about long wait times to vote during the November general election. Brown said he stood in line for an hour and a half in the morning. He left and came back in the afternoon to try again.

“I went back in line at 1:30 p.m. and waited for another one and a half hours,” Brown said.

Brown and other council members asked Blevins if the city could purchase new voting machines over multiple budget years, but Blevins said using two voting systems simultaneously would create a lot of headaches for voters and election officials.

Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton warned during her inauguration speech that the city’s budget will be lean in coming years. Blevins said he had approached former Mayor Jim Gray’s administration about purchasing new machines for the past few years. The city took a pass because the budget was tight, he said.

Council members made no promises during Tuesday’s meeting.

“We will have to see in the next budget,” said Councilwoman Susan Lamb, the chairwoman of the committee.