Stark BOE gives county commissioners ultimatum over Dominion voting machines

Stark BOE gives county commissioners ultimatum over Dominion voting machines

CANTON  The Stark County Board of Elections moved Friday to initiate a lawsuit against the county commissioners if they don’t approve funding to buy Dominion voting machines by their regular board meeting next week.

The vote during the special five-minute meeting was 3-0 by Chairman Samuel Ferruccio, Kody Gonzalez and William Cline.

Board member Curt Braden abstained. It’s not clear why, but he’s a regional director for the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. Braden could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Stark County Board of Elections voted Friday morning to initiate a lawsuit against the county commissioners if they don't approve funding to buy Dominion voting machines by their regular board meeting on Wednesday. Protesters stood outside the Stark County Office Building earlier this month in hopes of dissuading the purchase.

Ferruccio, besides being the board chairman and an attorney, is the chairman for the Stark County Democratic Party, and Gonzalez is the county Democratic Party’s vice chair. Braden is a former Stark County Republican Party chairman, and Cline, an attorney, is a Republican.

In Ohio, each of its 88 counties have an elections board that has two Democrats and two Republicans and each staff position of the boards of elections have a Democratic and Republican counterpart.

Ferruccio said he convened the meeting “to clarify any mischaracterization by the county commissioners or press of our selection of Dominion Voting Systems. I think it is important for the public to know it is our duty to make this selection independent of the county commissioners.”

The board first voted 4-0 again to select Dominion voting machines but with a demand that the commissioners approve funding by their Wednesday meeting “due to the time sensitive nature of needing the equipment in time for 2021 general election (on Nov. 2).”

The board’s motion cited a section of state law that authorizes a board of elections, county commissioners with the recommendation of the board of elections or voters through an initiative petition to buy voting machines. It also cited a state statute that says the commissioners shall acquire the equipment upon a motion by a board of elections, the county commissioners or voters through an initiative petition.

After the meeting, Ferruccio said the Board of Elections through its motions Friday was making it explicitly clear that it was not making a recommendation to the commissioners on voting equipment under one section of the law. But it was invoking its authority under the prior clause of the statute to select the voting equipment that the board believed the commissioners were legally obligated to fund.

The Board of Elections’ second motion was to initiate litigation against the commissioners through Columbus-based elections law attorney Don McTigue if the commissioners fail to act. The office of Stark County Prosecutor Kyle Stone has recused itself from the case because it represents both the commissioners and Board of Elections. It recommended McTigue to represent the Board of Elections and law firm Isaac Wiles in Columbus to represent the commissioners.

The commissioners’ attorney Mark Weaver of Isaac Wiles issued a statement by email after the elections board vote: “The Board of Commissioners will always act within the law and for the best interests of Stark County residents. That’s true in every area of county government, including the Board of Elections. The commissioners are elected by the voters to make the final decisions about county policy and they take that responsibility seriously.”

The difference between what the Board of Elections approved Friday and what it initially approved on Dec. 9 appeared to be that the price lists Friday included totals for not only the upfront cost for the first year but the totals of the 10-year contract.

The updated purchase list includes:

  • 1,450 Dominion ImageCast X touchscreen voting machines at a cost of $3,500 each for a total of $5.08 million. The machines generate a paper record of each vote on rolls of paper checked by voters and record votes on memory cards similar to the original Diebold TSX touchscreen machines the county has used since 2005.
  • 1,450 leg stands for each voting machine at a cost of $350 each for a total of $507,500.
  • Four ballot printers at a cost of $25,000 each.
  • Voting and adjudication software for $205,000.
  • Support for setting up election equipment and on-site technical support for $276,215 the first year.

There also are other costs for such items as backup batteries, bags, installation and testing, a server, paper rolls and training.

After applying a state grant of $3.27 million and trade-in credit of $1.7 million, the county’s share for upfront and first-year costs would be $1.48 million.

However, the total for years two through 10 for software licenses, ballot-on-demand printing and hardware warranties would be nearly $3 million or $331,550 a year to be entirely paid by the county.

The Stark County Board of Elections met in a video conference meeting Friday morning to vote to sue the Stark County commissioners if they fail to fund the purchase of Dominion voting machines by Wednesday.

The commissioners voted March 10 to reject the Board of Elections’ recommendation to purchase the Dominion machines after dozens to hundreds of Stark County residents, many apparently influenced by former President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated allegations that the machines were hacked contacted the commissioners to oppose the purchase.

The commissioners’ office had accused the Board of Elections of failing to fully disclose the total 10-year costs. It said it invited Dominion’s competitor Election Systems and Software to improve its price quote for its voting equipment last month. The commissioners’ office said ES&S’s new quote, which included 10-year costs, ended up being $142,262 less than Dominion’s over a decade. 

Board of Elections members in response in a March 15 meeting called the commissioners’ office’s actions in seeking a revised price quote from a losing bidder inappropriate if not unethical. At that meeting, the board voted 4-0 to initiate litigation, triggering the selection of outside attorneys. But in the vote Friday, it set a deadline for the commissioners to act to avoid a lawsuit.

Reach Robert at (330) 580-8327 or Twitter: @rwangREP. 


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