Wyoming is about halfway there.
In an omnibus appropriations bill passed by the U.S. Congress this spring, legislators designated $380 million in elections security grants to the states, and Wyoming will be getting a $3 million chunk of those funds. The grants require a 5 percent match from states, working out to $150,000 from Wyoming.
A formula breaking down distribution by county has yet to be hashed out, but will likely factor in population and individual county needs.
The funds will be provided through the Help America Vote Act of 2002, which last disbursed payments for upgrades nationally in 2010. The last time Wyoming saw any of that money was in 2005, however, when the current generation of machines were bought for the 2006 elections.
Park County Commissioner Jake Fulkerson, a member of the statewide Plan for Aging Voting Equipment task force, said those federal dollars, along with $500,000 allocated by the state legislature this year, will go nearly halfway toward covering the $8-10 million needed for new voting machines.
“It’s kind of a moving target” Fulkerson said of the total price tag. “You don’t just flip a switch with the hardware and the software and lining the vendors up.”
In Park County, the price tag is expected to be in the $450,000-600,000 neighborhood, Fulkerson said.
And voting changes being advocated for by the Wyoming County Clerks Association could decrease the number of new machines needed.
While PAVE looks to secure more state funds for tabulators, Fulkerson said the clerks were working on a “parallel track” to create savings by possibly switching to absentee-balloting by mail or voting in vote centers, which would cut down on the need for election judges and hardware.
“The number of voting machines in each county is directly tied to the number of districts/precincts and the method of voting. For example, a county utilizing vote centers and e-pollbooks might need less equipment than if the same county utilized the traditional method of precinct voting,” a PAVE draft memo from April reads.
Those changes were rebuffed by state legislators in several recent sessions, with members of the Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee expressing concerns over voting fraud.
“We’re OK for one more national election [in 2020],” Fulkerson said, but after that the M-100 vote tabulators used in the state will no longer be supported by manufacturer Elections Systems & Software.
“You don’t have a computer from 2006 do you?” Park County deputy clerk Hans Odde asked rhetorically of the need for new machines.
“There will be three pots of money” for updates Odde said.
In addition to the $3 million from Uncle Sam and the $500,000 from Cowboy Joe, PAVE will be lobbying Cheyenne for an additional infusion of cash in the 2019 session, he added.
The $500,000 approved this year, Odde said “would be seed money to get the ball rolling in 2019.”
Fulkerson added, “The big deal was to set up this interim study” in the legislature. The interim study, to be conducted by Joint Corporations, had a May 14-15 meeting in Lander, Fulkerson said.
Whatever money the state comes up with will likely have to be supplemented with local funds, Odde said.
“It sounds to me like the Legislature will require the counties to have some match,” he said.
Odde declined to provide even a ballpark estimate of what that price tag will come out to in Park County.
Fulkerson said the county is better-positioned to absorb a hit than others are, however.
Pointing to a 12.5 percent projected uptick in Park County’s assessed valuation this year and roughly $16.53 million in reserve funds, Fulkerson said the county will be able to shoulder its portion of costs.
Surges in the barrel price, driving the assessed valuation trend are a reason to celebrate both for county commissioners and for state legislators, Fulkerson added: “$60 [a barrel] oil is better than $50 oil,” he said. The barrel price “is helping a lot, especially for those energy-reliant counties.”
Referring to Niobrara County though, Fulkerson said “They have no money for this,” and any match would have to be affordable for rich and poor counties alike.
Wyoming was one of eight states that received just $3 million in HAVA money this year. The Dakotas and Montana also got the $3 million minimum, while population-heavy California and Texas clocked in at $36 and $24 million respectively.
Fulkerson wasn’t complaining though. “That really takes the edge off,” he said of the cash.
“Wyoming doesn’t want to be the state that compromises a national election.”