Voter certification process ongoing at State Board of Elections

Published July 24, 2019

By Brad Crone

The NC State Board of Elections has hit the pause button on their work to certify new voter tabulation equipment. Karen Brinson Bell, the new executive director of the SBOE, is taking a little time to conduct more due diligence into the firms submitting bids - which is good news for our state's voters.

The State Board of Elections has asked each one of the companies submitting bids to provide in-depth financial information to determine if there is any foreign investment and ownership in the corporate structures of the perspective vendors. We need to know if any foreign investors have an ownership or equity positions with any of the companies making bids to do business with the State Board of Elections. Would we want a Russian investor or a Chinese investor to have an ownership position in a voter equipment vendor?

Current state law and administrative code already requires the vendors to put their proprietary source code in escrow not subject to NC public records laws -- they can do the same for the identities of the investors.

We need to know if the companies have enough financial stability to post a bond big enough to pay for a statewide election re-do if in the event there is an equipment failure that requires such.  This means that if the vendor is held liable during a catastrophic failure that could require another election whether it is in a legislative district, county, congressional district or statewide, the bond needs to be large enough to cover the expenses if their equipment is deemed responsible for the necessary special election. These bonds should be in place prior to certification to show the SBOE a good faith effort from the vendor.

The board and staff should examine the equipment and allow for a public demonstration of the equipment that is up for certification.  A public demonstration should also allow public comment and input as a part of the process. The old board conducted such a public hearing and input session in 2018 but none have been conducted by the newly installed board.

There needs to be a thorough discussion with the potential vendors about firmware and software and how they manage updates.  The SBOE should require each CEO from applying vendors to sign an affidavit that has criminal consequences if their company is caught using outdated and non-certified software.  It is critical that the company agree to place their firmware and software in escrow so the SBOE can monitor and utilize for recovery in the event the vendor goes out of business.

We cannot afford to go back to the days when we had a situation in 2004 in Carteret County where there was no recourse when the touch-screen vote tabulator failed losing more than 5,000 votes in the Commissioner of Agriculture contest.  The Public Confidence in Elections law passed in 2005 didn't require a sole-source contract - it merely set standards so high that only one vendor could meet them, and our state has benefited from that sole-source contract since 2006.

That election voter tabulation failure in Carteret County is the last time we have had an event that was a complete system misfire.  That's why it's important for the SBOE and the General Assembly to consider a sole-source contract again just like South Carolina, Georgia, Maryland, West Virginia, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and 12 more states.

Over the years, there has been a call for competition in our election tabulation equipment.  That should be done in the certification process with an open, fair bidding and review process that will allow the State Board of Elections the ability to select one contractor to serve all 100 counties.  Under that process, all vendors are welcomed and the best vendor that can meet the financial holdings background check, bond requirements, software requirements and staffing requirements with offices in our state, will be selected.

It is a rigorous process no doubt, but its importance to our election process and democracy demand it.

Let's find the best vendor, who can meet the highest standards and provide them with the contract to serve our citizens.