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County OKs purchase of new election software

by LYNNETTE HINTZE
Daily Inter Lake | September 25, 2021 12:00 AM

The Flathead County commissioners took another step forward in updating the county’s election equipment on Tuesday by approving the purchase of new election software.

Commissioners Pam Holmquist and Brad Abell voted in favor of a purchase order with Election Systems & Software that includes $24,000 for the software and a training day, plus $45,500 for the software license, maintenance and support fees over a three-year period. Commissioner Randy Brodehl was absent.

Earlier this month the commissioners unanimously approved the purchase of a hardened laptop that is used by election officials exclusively for internal election communication. Results are loaded to the hardened system, through the software program, then are transferred again to another computer that can upload results to the Secretary of State’s Office.

All that remains to complete the full slate of planned election equipment upgrades is the purchase of DS200 tabulators to replace the M100 vote tabulators that are 16 years old. The commissioners tabled that decision last month for further review.

Eight people spoke in opposition of the software purchase during Tuesday’s 15-minute public comment period. Many reiterated their earlier concerns about not trusting the software and electronic voting equipment and expressed concerns about the potential for vote manipulation. A couple of people asked the commissioners to put the upgrades on hold as alleged voting irregularities are being reviewed in other states.

County Clerk and Recorder Debbie Pierson explained the ElectionWare is the software operating system for all of the election-related equipment that “makes everything work together.” It will replace the Unity operating system the county has been using for about 16 years.

The ElectionWare system offers an enhanced ability to run election result reports, Pierson added.

The election equipment upgrades have been included in the county’s Capital Improvement Plan for many years, Pierson noted.

Commissioner Holmquist, referring to citizen concerns about whether the new software “wipes out” the data from past elections, quizzed Pierson about the process.

Pierson explained that the election equipment’s purpose is to count ballots for an election, not to retain long-term data related to elections.

“For that we retain all paper ballots and related paper materials,” Pierson said. “All of the election materials, the ballots and everything related are retained for 22 months,” including audit logs from tabulators.

Some election materials can be requested through a Freedom of Information Act request, she said, but added it does take a court order to access ballots.

Holmquist also asked Pierson to review the ways in which citizens can be involved in the election process. Pierson said interested individuals can apply to be an election judge, though she added there’s no guarantee that an applicant will be selected.

“There are always opportunities for people to get involved and come and watch the process,” Pierson said. “All of our testing is public; we’ve had it for every election, and there are folks that come and watch every step of the process.”

News editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.