A group of municipal officials from Milwaukee County tiptoed Monday into the issue of consolidating the purchase and programming of voting machines. The Intergovernmental Cooperation Council will name a work group to study the idea, which came out as the top shared-service idea in a survey of 14 municipal officials done by the nonpartisan Public Policy Forum. Interest in the idea was prompted in part by an unsuccessful attempt last fall by County Supervisor John Weishan Jr. to have the county finance the cost of buying 375 voting machines to supply the City of Milwaukee and every other municipality. The idea failed to win County Board approval as an amendment to the county’s 2014 budget on a 9-9 tie vote.
Under Weishan’s proposal, the county could buy the machines for about $6,000 each if purchased in bulk. If bought separately in smaller numbers, the machines sell for about double that amount. Weishan also called for in-house reprogramming of the machines, something that now costs about $150,000 per election from an outside contractor.
The reprogramming is needed to change the wording and layout of ballots.
Greenfield Mayor Michael Neitzke said more study on a consolidation plan was needed. Savings projected by Weishan’s plan need more thorough vetting, he said.
“Nobody knew where those numbers came from,” Neitzke said.
County Executive Chris Abele said he knew little of Weishan’s plan but favors the ICC review so some well-researched options can be considered.
The standardization of voting machines would streamline vote tabulation and allow results to be posted much quicker by electronic transfer of municipal results to the county Election Commission on election nights. Several different brands and vintage machines are now in use around Milwaukee County, complicating election night counting.
Weishan said the County Board budget vote was a missed opportunity. He was not optimistic the ICC, which is made up of 19 mayors and village presidents from Milwaukee County communities, can come up with a plan in time for the 2014 elections.