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From $3,150 each to practically worthless
Six counties still owe $33-million on obsolete voting machines.
By STEVE BOUSQUET
Published July 12, 2007
Bob Rottloff, (cq) a Operations Technician at the Election Services Center in Largo, replaces a precinct tag on one of the 3,400 AVC Edge voting machines at the center's warehouse. The machines were first used in March of 2003 and will be replaced next summer.
[Times photo: James Borchuck]
[Times photo: James Borchuck]
This is an optical scan voting machine made by Sequoia Voting Systems that is similar to a model that may be adopted by Pinellas County later next year.
» Fast Facts
By the numbers
25,000 – Touch screen voting machines for sale in Florida
$1 – Amount per voting machine company offered to pay to buy machines back from state
$14-million – Approximate amount Pinellas County paid for its touch screens
$12-million – Amount Hillsborough paid for 3,100 touch screens
Touch screen money pit
Six Florida counties still owe money on their touch screen voting machines. A new state law renders them obsolete for precinct voting by July 1, 2008. Here's the amount each county owes.
• Miami-Dade: $15,465,000
• Broward: $8,310,000
• Palm Beach: $4,649,000
• Martin: $1,123,270
• Collier: $3,119,046
• Nassau: $310,000
Source: Florida Department of State
TALLAHASSEE - For sale, incredibly cheap: 25,000 Florida touch screen voting machines, like new but rendered obsolete by a changed political climate.
The switch to paper ballots ordered by Gov. Charlie Crist and the Legislature means that most touch screens, only a few years old, must be junked and replaced by the fall of 2008 with optical scanners that read paper ballots marked by a voter's hand.
Secretary of State Kurt Browning, who's in charge of disposing of the touch screens, can't find a buyer.
That means counties such as Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas will lose tens of millions of dollars they invested in those machines.
"We are not going to get anywhere near what we paid for these units," Browning said.
For taxpayers, that's not the worst of it, however.
The decision to get rid of touch screens has happened so fast that many of those nearly-obsolete units aren't paid for yet.
Six counties - Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Martin, Collier and Nassau - still owe a combined $33-million on touch screens that they can use for precinct voting only twice more, in the presidential primary next Jan. 29 and municipal elections next spring.
After that, touch screens may be used only by blind and visually impaired voters in 2008 and 2010 to comply with federal disability laws.
Other counties paid cash for their touch screens, but those six used borrowed money after the state's decision to outlaw punch card ballots after the 2000 presidential recount meltdown.
Miami-Dade spent $24.5-million for its iVotronic machines in 2002, and Broward paid $17-million for its machines, which now may be sold for scrap or cannibalized for parts.
Miami-Dade still owes $15.5-million on more than 5,000 iVotronic units, made by Election Systems & Software, according to documents the county filed with the state.
Broward still owes $8.3-million on its machines, nearly half the $17-million purchase price in 2001.
"I think there are some voters who are going to be really upset about that," said Dr. Brenda Snipes, Broward's election supervisor. "But some voters would say that no price is too great to allow us to have a paper record."
The new state law mandating optical scan voting requires counties to dispose of most of their touch screen units, in exchange for state money to buy replacement optical scanners. Any proceeds from the sale of the old units will be given to counties that still owe money on them.
Hillsborough spent $12-million for 3,100 touch screens in 2001. Supervisor of Elections Buddy Johnson said he plans to return fewer than 400 to the state and keep the rest.
"Our position here is, given the transitional volatility of elections, we're going to hold onto what we have," Johnson said. "They still work fine."
Pinellas County paid $3,150 for each of its touch screens, for a total of about $14-million.
The units sit in a Largo warehouse, their final resting place still unknown.
"I don't know why we couldn't just keep them," Supervisor of Elections Deb Clark said. "We just made our last payment on them not too long ago."
Browning said the law is clear, that counties can keep only enough touch screens to serve blind and visually impaired voters. If they want state money for new equipment, Browning said, they must return most of the units.
One possible fate for the touch screens is to be cannibalized, like an old pickup truck, with the parts sold to recyclers.
Browning said he has had three serious inquiries from possible buyers of touch screen units.
BAE Systems, a major defense contractor, inquired about them last month. A Veterans Administration hospital in Miami asked about converting them into "learning kiosks" for VA patients.
But to add insult to injury, Sequoia Voting Systems offered to take its AVC Edge 1 units off the state's hands for $1 a unit.
Sequoia's customers in Florida include Pinellas and Hillsborough.
"The parts that could be salvaged are not worth the price of the labor required to open the units and remove them," Sequoia vice president Phil Foster told Browning. "We do not have any expectation of being able to resell these units to another jurisdiction within the U.S. or another country."
But a dollar a unit?
No way, Browning said.
"I think we would be better served even if we were to recycle those machines," Browning said. I think they're worth more than a dollar."