Looking ahead: Replacing outdated election equipment

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On Monday, Civic Nebraska testified in support of LR 403, Senator Hansen’s resolution to create the Election Technology Committee. This committee would consist of seven state senators, including the committee chairs for Government and Appropriation, and would research, discuss, and recommend a state-wide solution for replacing our outdated election equipment and technology.

Right now, there is no definite answer on who is responsible for replacing the equipment. The state owns the current machines and pays for their maintenance, but the initial purchase was done so under a federal requirement with federal dollars. Typically, counties are responsible for those costs associated with conducting elections, the Secretary of State merely offering guidance and educational resources. Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.34.27 PMA recent Brennan Center study explored the current state of election equipment across the nation and suggested that those machines purchased with HAVA funds are approaching the end of their life-cycle.

In his neutral testimony, Secretary of State John Gale questioned the immediacy of Senator Hansen’s proposal. While we acknowledge his expertise in the area of the current, outdated election equipment, we are concerned with his flippant attitude on how long it may take to secure a solution and funding for it. Just last session the Secretary of State’s office had difficulty securing the amount requested to cover maintenance costs for the 10-year-old machines the state currently owns.

This session alone we’re seeing a $150 million budget shortfall, tax relief plans aimed at capping property taxes and local government budgets, and money that has to be poured into the Department of Corrections – all this on top of the few weeks of sessions brought to a standstill by filibusters. LR 403 introduced by Senator Matt Hansen.True the election equipment isn’t breaking down tomorrow, but when national studies and common sense are saying they’re going to break down in the not so distant future – shouldn’t we take action? Give ourselves time to craft a solution, instead of pouring money on a problem that has evolved into a crisis.

LR 403 provides an infrastructure for policy makers to make policy decisions about the future of election technology in Nebraska. If the state decides to take on this expenditure, we need a comprehensive recommendation that can immediately become a bill. A select committee provides this. Interim studies are up to the discretion and whim of the standing committee. A joint-interim study could address the policy and budget aspects of this issue, but there is something to be said about too many cooks in a kitchen. A select committee of 7 state senators with the drive, the passion, the knowledge and the focus to tackle this problem will provide the best solution, a consensus, an introducer and 6 co-sponsors that tells their colleagues “we gave this thoughtful, deliberate consideration, this is what is best for Nebraska”.

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