Securing our elections with a surety bond makes sense

Published June 5, 2018

By Brad Crone

by Brad Crone, Political analyst and NC SPIN panelist, June 5, 2018.

The State Board of Elections is currently going through a process reviewing potential vendors to serve the state’s 100 county boards of election with new voting tabulation systems. All five will be required to show their systems in July to the public and new State Board.

Currently, the state has a sole-source contract with Election Systems & Software out of Omaha, Nebraska.  They work with longtime partner, Printelect, located in New Bern, Raleigh and Asheville who provide the local election services necessary to support the counties and State Board of Elections.

The state went to a sole-source contract in 2006 following the 2004 debacle in Carteret County, when a touch-screen voting system lost more than 4,000 votes in a closely contested statewide race for Commissioner of Agriculture.  Mr. Britt Cobb had the right to request a new statewide election based on the system failure, but he did not do so, rather conceding to Mr. Steve Troxler. If there had been a ‘re-do’ election, the state would have been on the hook to pay for it.  Ever since 2006 when the state went with a rigorous sole-source bidding process, there has not been a single system failure similar to the major voting failure seen in 2004.

In 2006, the SBOE wanted to implement a $7.5 million surety bond so that if ever in the future we had a similar situation the state would be covered on funding a ‘re-do’ election.  But they also wanted the bond in place in the event the vendor went bankrupt and left the counties with equipment they could not maintain or replace. In today’s election environment it would be impossible for the county or state to support a defunct elections vendors software, hardware or firmware, and provide in county parts, repairs and maintenance.

The surety bond from election vendors protects the state’s interests.

So, the question now is the bond figure of $10 million too high?

Last week, State Board of Elections Director Kimberly Strach appeared before the State House Elections Committee and testified that the cost of a statewide election ‘re-do’ would be approximately $10 million.  But when you look at the money being paid by local counties such as Guilford, Wake and Mecklenburg, you quickly realize the cost for the election systems is well over $10 million.  Some have estimated the Mecklenburg County equipment update will cost nearly $12-$20 million and that altogether counties across the state will spend $50 million over the next several years updating their tabulation systems to ensure voters have a paper ballot system that is not vulnerable to foreign or domestic threats.

A $10 million surety bond to provide a safety net for the county election boards and the state board makes sense.

Having a uniform and standard voting election system across the state makes sense.

Checking potential election system vendors for financial solvency makes sense.

Having rigid specifications, guidelines and requirements to ensure uniformity, fair pricing, and effective voting tabulation systems makes sense.

Protecting the interest of the taxpayers and voters really makes sense.