Linn County considers $227,000 in voting equipment upgrades

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Linn County officials say changes to state voter ID laws could cost the county more than $200,000 in equipment upgrades.

Becky Stonawski, deputy commissioner of elections with Linn County’s Auditor’s Office, on Tuesday told the county board the office planned to request $227,000 to cover the cost of 333 computers plus printers and other equipment.

“It’s an incredibly large bill and something I wanted to discuss,” Stonawski said.

Stonawski said that request will be lumped with a roughly $200,000 request to cover the cost of the county’s Aug. 1 special election. Bar code scanners, which are estimated at $300 per scanner, are not included in the request.

Stonawski and Auditor Joel Miller said the new computers will prevent a slow down and lines at polling places as poll workers adhere to new voter ID changes, which began being phased in this summer and requires Iowa residents to present personal identification in order to vote.

Earlier this year, the GOP-led Statehouse passed changes to the state’s voter ID laws. Republicans say the changes are necessary to prevent voter fraud, while Democrats and others argue the laws suppress votes and create barriers for the poor, elderly, people with disabilities and minorities.

The new state provisions do not require the purchase of new voting equipment and counties must meet full compliance by Jan. 1, 2019, Miller said.

Miller said the county does have options, such as using paper ballots or getting limited computers and using provisional ballots — which must be verified later — when lines get too long. Those options could cut down on computer costs, but add more work as those votes are processed, Miller said.

One of the biggest concerns is precinct lines, he added.

Updated computers will help prevent a slow down in the voting process, Miller said. If voting becomes too time consuming, turnout could suffer, he added.

“I think our turnout numbers are going to drop. We’re going to have more provisions and, even with buying the computers, we believe we will regain some of the efficiency that we lost, but we’re not going to regain it all,” Miller said. “I think we’re going to do everything we can to not create lines, but I think it’s inevitable.”

Ultimately, the supervisors will determine the course of action.

“We’re going to request the money, we’re telling you there are some options there if you deny the money. Whatever you do, we’ll figure it out and make it work to the best of our abilities,” Miller said.

l Comments: (319) 339-3175; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

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