County officials contemplate new voting systems

The Colusa County Board of Supervisors last week approved an agreement with the California Secretary of State to receive matching funds of up to $152,500 in the event the county needs to purchase new voting equipment before the next election. 

Colusa County Cerk-Recorder Rose Gallo-Vasquez told the board, at their Feb. 5 regular meeting, that the state would provide dollar-for-dollar matching funds should the county want to replace its voting equipment. 

“It’s not a commitment at this point,” Gallo-Vasquez said. 

The county’s current equipment was purchased in 2003 to replace the previous punch card system, which got a bad wrap for the “hanging chads” problem that led to the Florida recount in the presidential election of 2000. 

Gallo-Vasquez said it was her intent to begin reviewing the county’s existing voting equipment and start looking at new equipment and suppliers as soon as possible.  

“There are a very small pool of vendors who can do this because all of our equipment needs to be certified,” she said. “So there is a lot of work yet to be done.” 

Gallo-Vasquez said the purchase of a new voting system would bring the county’s election system up to date with the latest technology available, and better enable her department to meet the increasing demands of elections. 

Colusa County has 18 voting precincts, of which only six vote only by mail. 

Gallo-Vasquez said the requirement for all mail is having 250 registered voters or less within a precinct, although it was possible for precincts that have converted to mail revert to having poll locations if voter registration increases.

“It has to,” she said. “It’s the election code.”

Gallo-Vasquez said she expects the county’s voter registration to steadily increase as the California Department of Motor Vehicles provides an opportunity for individuals to register to vote or update their voter registration when they register their vehicles or renew their driver’s licenses. 

“I don’t expect all our mail only precincts to remain mail only precincts,” she said. “For example, in the Arbuckle area we have very large precincts. We have about 1,000 in one and another is over 1,000. With the one that is over 1,000, if we were to have an election today, we would have to break that into two precincts because more than 1,000 is exceeding the number that is allowed for a precinct.”

If new equipment is needed, the California Secretary of State would match up to $152,500 for Colusa County to purchase new voting systems, electronic poll books, ballot on demand systems, compliant vote by mail drop boxes, remote accessible vote by mail systems, telecommunication technologies, and/or vote by mail ballot sorting and processing equipment. 

If the county decides to purchase new equipment ahead of the presidential primary, which has been moved up from June of 2020 to March of 2020, then the county would fund the purchase in 2020 so as not to impact the current budget, Gallo-Vasquez said.