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Preston’s new, as-yet-unused voting machines incurring unexpected expenses

KINGWOOD — Preston County is running into unexpected costs for the new voting machines it got a great deal on last year — and that haven’t even been used yet.

In 2018, the county received a grant for $356,226.68. The county is paying $91,566.92 per year for four years to finish the $680,267.67 to Election Systems & Software, of Omaha, Neb. The 30 machines replace iVotronic machines that had been used since 2006.

But, County Administrator Kathy Mace told commissioners at Monday’s meeting, there were some misunderstandings. The contract waives maintenance fees for the first year. That contract was signed Nov. 13, 2018, so the year is up, even though the machines haven’t yet been used.

Annual maintenance fees of $24,000 now kick in for three years. That rubbed Commission President Dave Price the wrong way. It’s like giving free warranty on a new car, knowing it wouldn’t be driven during the warranty period, he said.

“That was our mistake,” Mace said.

And there’s more. County Clerk Linda Huggins said when the machines were demonstrated, the seller said the computer on top could be stored separately from the large, plastic bottom, which is about the size of a 60-gallon garbage bin.

But when the machines were delivered a year ago, the person assembling them told her, “That’s not a good idea,” Huggins reported Monday.

That has forced Preston to look for a place to store the machines, Mace noted, an additional unexpected expense. Currently some machines are stored in a room behind the commission meeting room and others in the meeting room.

Mace said she wants to approach the vendor and suggest that because, “now we’re having a space issue and we may have to rent a space to store these things, that should equal maintenance.”

Her hope is the company will waive some or all of the maintenance fees. Commissioners Price, Don Smith and Samantha Stone agreed she should try. Stone volunteered to be part of the negotiations.

There was only one vendor approved by the state for the voting machines, Price noted, so Preston had no choice. More than 39 counties have the new ExpressVote machines.

Huggins said she has $8,700 in her budget that can be devoted to the maintenance fees. Mace said she will look in the commission’s budget for money, too. But she and commissioners hope they don’t have to pay the fees.

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