The Wisconsin Government Accountability Board staff finished up two days of testing new voting equipment with a public demonstration Wednesday night.
Representatives of Election Systems and Software, headquartered in Omaha, Neb., presented the Unity 22.214.171.124 Voting System to GAB staff and members of the public, letting them test the machines for themselves.
The Unity System has a scanner for paper ballots at the polls, a high-speed optical scanner to centralize ballot counting as well as a device to assist disabled voters casting paper ballots.
The U.S. Election Assistance Commission certified in July that ESS Unity System meets federal voting system standards. According to state law, the GAB must approve new voting equipment before it can be used in Wisconsin.
The GAB staff tested the system by running mock votes from various different types of elections, including a partisan primary, a general election and a nonpartisan election.
Kevin Kennedy, director and general counsel for the GAB, said GAB staff and members of Election Administration Council, a variety of local election officials and advocates, have reviewed the system, and the GAB staff will present their recommendation to the Board at their Nov. 9 meeting.
Kennedy said the voting equipment presented will vary in price, depending on quantity purchased and what each specific polling place needs.
“Madison’s equipment was bought in the ’90s, so it’s very old,” Kennedy said. “The municipalities are required to equip the polling place, so it’s their costs.”
Kennedy added the GAB gave about 900 polling places $6,000 in 2006 to upgrade their voting systems to meet federal standards. The polling places could choose equipment from five different vendors approved by the EAC.
According to Kennedy, the staff was challenged by a county official in 2006 when the GAB did not approve of a company’s voting system. He said the county purchased that voting equipment with the GAB funding, but the system proved insufficient so the county had to purchase an all new system.
Chair of the Assembly committee on Elections and Campaign Reform Jeff Smith, D-Eau Claire, said he is in favor of updating the state’s voting systems.
“We are always pleased to see they are testing new equipment,” Smith said. “We are always looking for new systems to streamline the voting process.”
Smith said there has been a lot of movement toward streamlining voting since the 2000 election and added it is important for voting systems to be trustworthy. He said having accountability, like hard copies of voting results, is very important.
Sen. Alan Lasee, R-De Pere, a member of the Committee on Labor, Elections and Urban Affairs, said he supports the proposed voting system but added the state should settle on a single system.
“As far as I understand it, it will work out OK,” Lasee said. “I’m just hoping they settle in on one type of voting equipment so local governments don’t have to switch back and forth constantly and by new machines.”