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Utah Voting Machines Nearing End Of Expected Lifespan

Brian Grimmett
Vote by mail ballots wait to be counted by the Salt Lake County Clerk

The life of Utah’s current voting machines is nearing its end and the legislature is now tasked with figuring out what to do next.

The state of Utah purchased the current electronic voting machines being used in 2005 with help from the federal government. Those machines were expected to last about 15 years, but as anyone who’s bought an smart phone knows, technology doesn’t have a long shelf life and the voting machines are running into software and hardware problems.

Mark Thomas is the director of elections in the Lt. Governor’s office. He says the legislature is facing a big question: Do they want to pay for new machines so the process is the same statewide? Or do they want to leave it up to individual counties?

“If the state is not going to be purchasing the machines, or we’re not going to be assisting with the purchase of the machines, and the expense falls to the counties, I think it’s going to be very difficult for us to be a cohesive group,” he says.

While it’s too early to know which direction the legislature will go, Republican State Sen. Lyle Hillyard says he’s not willing to spend the estimated $15 million dollars for new machines, when paper ballots are cheaper and more secure.

“We talk about the computers and they’re really nice, but I can tell you there’s a lot of people who would like $15 million dollars to spend on programs that we would use year round and not just once every two years,” he says.

To help inform the discussion, the Lt. Governor’s office has created a voting equipment selection committee. They’ll be looking into different options and vendors and expect to have a formal recommendation for the legislature by spring of 2017. 

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