As the state Senate is set to vote on a sweeping elections bill that would authorize $150 million in spending to modernize Georgia’s touchscreen direct-recording electronic voting machines, the long-term cost of the proposed solution remains a point of contention.
Unredacted proposals from six vendors who responded to the secretary of state’s request for information (RFI), an estimate done by the secretary of state’s office on hand-marked paper ballots and a separate analysis from the non-profit Open Source Elections Technology Institute show a wide range of costs and levels of specificity in where money would be spent.
HB 316 would make Georgia the only state to run elections based solely on touchscreen ballot-marking devices with a paper trail and would be paid for using bonds in the fiscal year 2020 budget starting in July. It also makes numerous changes to state election law, codifying several federal court cases and adding provisions making it easier for Georgians to vote. Opponents of the bill say that a hand-marked paper ballot option is safer against hacking and cheaper to operate.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger told GPB News in an interview Feb. 28 that over the course of 10 years, the total costs of ballot-marking devices and a hand-marked paper ballot system would be roughly the same, but the brunt of the paper ballot printing costs would fall on local counties instead of the state.
If the Senate passes the bill, it heads back to the House after being amended in the Senate Ethics Committee. It would then head to Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk, and upon his signature Raffensperger’s office would begin the Request For Proposal (RFP) process that would require these voting machine vendors vying for the contract to offer more specifics about their solutions and associated costs to the state.
The unredacted budget proposals from voting machine vendors were provided to GPB News by the secretary of state’s office Tuesday afternoon. Here are the proposals and their associated costs:
ELECTION SYSTEMS & SOFTWARE
ES&S has a breakdown by option, quantity and the total price per unit for hardware and software used. Method one would provide one scanner for hand-marked paper ballots and one ballot-marking device per precinct (with extras) and cost the state about $23 million for one year.
The ballot-marking devices found in method two would cost the state just under $100 million for one year, which is in line with the $150 million allocated for the machines, training and voter awareness in the fiscal year 2020 budget.
ES&S also lists various extra purchases and licensing fees for all of its proposals. Under the ballot-marking device method, Georgia would also pay $5.7 million in annual license, maintenance and support fees. And a $4900 ballot on demand printer would cost the state $780 per year to license. Also, these proposals do not include the purchase of an election management system, which could be an additional cost to consider.
Dominion has a detailed breakdown of pricing for all of its software and hardware, but does not have a total estimate for a statewide deployment. Costs range from $95 per year firmware licenses to $700,000 for their largest-scale election management system software.
The RFI also says Dominion would be “happy to discuss volume pricing and discounted pricing scenarios” during the Request For Proposal process, and offers a leasing option.
HAND-MARKED PAPER BALLOTS (SECRETARY OF STATE’S ANALYSIS)
The secretary of state’s office commissioned an internal request to see what the 10-year cost to move the state to hand-marked paper ballots would be, including optical scanners and ballot-marking devices for accessibility purposes. That hardware cost ranged from $43 million to $60 million in one-year costs. It does not include any licensing fees or the cost of ballot on demand printers.
Additionally, the memo looked at the cost for counties (not the state) to pre-print ballots for elections over the course of ten years. That estimates printing ballots for 120 percent of the registered voters in Georgia for each ballot style for each election. Using an average of 55 cents per ballot, that cost is estimated to be $164 million over ten years. Total costs would be $207 to $224 million.
HAND-MARKED PAPER BALLOTS (OSET INSTITUTE ANALYSIS)
The non-profit OSET Institute also looked at the 10-year cost for hand-marked paper ballots, disagreeing with the state’s methodology. OSET estimates a printing cost of closer to 40 cents a ballot and uses fewer ballots per election based on historical voter turnout instead of active registered voters.
The one-year cost for hand-marked paper ballots under this estimate would be $50 million. Maintenance and licensing fees for the rest of the ten years would total $34 million, and ballot printing costs would be about $28 million, for a total of $113 million over a 10-year period. Using the secretary of state’s higher number of ballots instead, their estimate would put printing costs at $97 million or a total of $182 million. Those printing costs would be borne by the counties.
OSET also estimated the 10-year cost for a ballot-marking device system. One year would cost $131 million for software, machines and support, $65 million in ongoing maintenance and license fees over ten years and about $5.8 million in printing costs for the paper used in the ballot-marking device system. That adds up to just over $203 million.
This proposal also looks at a 10-year cost. Their estimate would be about $68.5 million for one option that includes the election management system, scanners and tabulators and software, or $174 million for another version. Method one would have voters use a hand-marked paper ballot that is optically scanned, with ballot-marking devices for accessibility purposes.
Method two is a ballot-marking device only. This proposal does include licensing costs for software, but does not include the printing costs Georgia’s 159 counties would incur to provide enough ballots for voters. A leasing option is also available.
Smartmatic has a short budget proposal that includes $120-$150 million for equipment and software and $31-37 million for services and warranties.
The Clear Ballot proposal estimates a one-year cost of $101.5 million dollars. This includes everything from ballot on demand printers to the optical scanners that would tabulate the hand-marked paper ballots. The proposal recommends the state purchase around 3500-4000 tabulators and 2500 ballot-marking devices for accessibility purposes.
The budget document also includes annual warranty and software maintenance costs at $5.5 million a year. In the RFI, Clear Ballot says it is willing to work with the state to structure an option to lease the equipment instead of purchase it.
Unisyn’s document offers one-year costs for three methods of configuration, ranging from about $48 million for nearly 3,000 optical scanners in a hand-marked paper ballot system to for more than $137 million in total costs for 24,000 ballot-marking devices that print a paper trail. The third option would be a hybrid of the first two options.
Other costs after the first year include software licenses, maintenance costs, proprietary voting paper costs and other recurring fees.