It cost around $33,000 more to run the vote-by-mail election this year than a similar election in 2010, but Cache County says it’s worth it compared to the cost of replacing 395 voting machines. “At first glance, that actually cost us more to do it that way,” said County Finance Director Cameron Jensen, referring to the mail-in ballots. “The problem, what becomes savings in my mind, is we are at a place with our equipment that we’re not replacing it.” The county set aside $850,000 in replacement funds in the mid-2000s, when they last purchased voting machines. At that time, the machines were paid for by a federal grant, the 2002 Help America Vote Act. The act, created in response to the Bush-Gore recount debacle in the 2000 election, helped pay for a slew of new electronic voting machines across the country and replaced old, unreliable machines. These machines are now over a decade old and need replacing, but there are no federal funds this time. As a result, Jensen said by-mail voting is a better long-term investment for electioneering in Cache County.
While people have said the county should just repair the 395 aging voting machines, it’s more complicated than that, Jensen said. Some of the companies that manufactured the machines are not making replacement parts, meaning the county would have to replace them. The cost is a lot for a cash-strapped county to handle, Jensen added.
With this in mind, jurisdictions have been looking for other options to replace the electronic machines. Hence, vote-by-mail. The County Council gave its nod of approval to the county’s first all by-mail election in August. The county then contracted with a Washington company to print the ballots, distributing them to 50,205 registered voters in October. By law, ballots are supposed to be mailed four weeks before election day.