Bluhm updates officials on voting machines

REED CITY — It may be early for some people to think about the 2018 mid-term election.

However, Osceola County Clerk Karen Bluhm, along with local township and city clerks, have spent the last couple of months figuring out what new voting equipment voters will see on election day in 2018.

The State of Michigan is requiring counties to purchase new equipment. In January, Bluhm told county officials the state selected Dominion Voting System, Election Systems and Software and Hart InterCivic as vendors of optical-scan voting systems local units will need to purchase. The current voting equipment arrived in 2005 and has been used since 2006.

Bluhm updated County Commissioners during their most recent meeting on April 18, telling them a decision on a vendor was made during a meeting with the local township clerks.

"It is my decision to make, but the local clerks are the ones who are going to be working hands-on with the machines," she explained. "After the conversation about the voting machines and they saw the numbers, they agreed with my decision. We are choosing Dominion."

The cost of Dominion, $1,860 for the county and a printer for townships, is less than the ES&S and Hart. However, Bluhm said the price wasn't the only factor considered.

"They use Governmental Business Services and Election Source to market themselves," she said. "The local clerks are familiar with them, and I work with them a little more than they do.

"It's really the service (Dominion provides)," she said, noting representatives are usually a half-hour away on election day in case there are any mechanical issues.

Bluhm said they will be able to rely on Dominion.

"They are from Grand Rapids, right across from the airport," she said. "I know where I can get my hands on someone personally."

Bluhm presented a 10-year cost analysis to commissioners, highlighting the costs of the voting equipment from the three vendors. The analysis included initial costs for both the county and townships and maintenance costs for Years 6 though 10. Years 2 through 5 had no costs.

The discussion at the clerk meeting, Bluhm said, did not focus on cost.

"Most of the consensus was we liked Hart," she said. "We all agreed Hart is the future equipment, but there are too many unknowns. It is approved by the state, but they have no current state contract."

Bluhm said Hart has no office set up in the state and couldn't pinpoint where it would be located.

The touch screen on Hart's voting equipment was very progressive, Bluhm added.

"I think that's the future," she said. "One clerk really liked Hart, but said she had to look at the age of her voters and voting population and didn't believe they would be comfortable with that equipment. I can see today's generation — that's where they want to be."

However, Bluhm said Hart's software isn't up to date.

"They keep telling me they will get me this and get me that," she said. "That's like telling me to buy a car with three tires this week and then they will get me the fourth tire in another three months."

Bluhm said ES&S was more difficult to get answers from.

"They kept telling me they'll match anybody else's quote," she said, shaking her head. "No, I'm not buying a car. They couldn't tell me where they were even located."

Bluhm said the state provided numbers of which counties selected which vendor. The majority have selected Dominion, the clerk said.

"We asked among ourselves, 'What did these other clerks know about Dominion that it was the obvious chosen one? What did they see that we haven't seen?'" Bluhm said. "Then we shared the costs."

Although Bluhm said a decision was made, it was not reported to the state. She said she would be making the recommendation to County Commissioners, who will have to approve a state-required resolution.

"I believe all the clerks were comfortable that we selected what's best for our voters," she said.

Bluhm added she's in no hurry to get the Dominion voting equipment and begin the training.

"I told them let's look at the first of the year," she said.