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McLean County considering spending $1 million to replace election equipment

Voter using voting machine
Emily Bollinger
McLean County election officials are looking to spend close to $1 million to upgrade voting equipment.

McLean County Clerk Kathy Michael says it's time for the county to replace its aging voting equipment.

The County Board will consider a request in December to spend nearly $1 million on new voting equipment with money from the American Rescue Plan (ARP).

“We have nursed our election equipment along for many, many years in an effort to save taxpayer dollars and buy spare parts and kick them once in a while,” Michael quipped.

Kathy Michael

The McLean County Clerk’s office handles all election matters outside of Bloomington. The city’s elections are handled by the Bloomington Election Commission.

Michael is recommending the county pay Omaha, Neb.-based Election Systems & Software (ES&S) $975,000 for the election equipment overhaul. ES&S submitted the second lowest of three bids.

Michael said it was the general consensus among election judges, county staff, county board members and Democratic and Republican party leaders that ES&S was the best choice following three demonstrations involving each of the three bidders.

Michael said the county's voting equipment is 15 to 17 years old and printing completed ballots often was a problem because of faulty machines.

“You know how we kind of went from paper to electronic devices and you saw the move toward touchscreens. We are moving back to paper now, back to the paper trail, just for a sense of security,” said Michael, noting that Illinois requires voting machines to have a permanent paper record.

Michael said voters will still be able to choose a touchscreen or paper ballot. She said the new voting machines also are accessible for the vision-impaired because the machines can read their ballot to them.

The County Board Executive Committee will consider the request at its Dec. 13 meeting. If approved, the plan will go to the full board for a vote on Dec. 16. Michael said if the county approves the purchase, the clerk’s office plans to post a video demonstration of the new machines online.

Michael initially planned to present the proposal during the County Board’s Finance Committee meeting on Dec. 1, but county administration determined that requests to use ARP funding would bypass the finance committee.

Michael added the county has a waiting list for election judges to cover the 2022 elections in June and November.

“I’d like to say it’s our outreach and it’s just the general enthusiasm and interest in McLean County,” she said, adding election judges will get trained on the new voting equipment as early as January.

The 2022 primary election was delayed until June 28 because the coronavirus pandemic delayed census results last year.

Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.