In the final weeks of the legislative session, nestled in between hemp and chicken coops, was a bill that stripped the state Board of Elections of its power to buy voting equipment and placed that responsibility with the secretary of state. While plenty of other bills were left in limbo as a result of the General Assembly’s abrupt recess, House and Senate versions of the voting equipment bill went the distance and the measure was signed into law by Governor Raimondo last week, according to the governor’s office. But what does it all mean? Officials say the state’s nearly 20-year-old voting machines are sorely in need of an upgrade. The Board of Elections has been talking about replacing the outdated machines for roughly five years amid funding woes and logistical holdups.
In fact, the machines are so old that Election System & Software, the vendor that handles the programming of the machines that collect and tally ballots, can no longer make security or software updates to the machines as of July 1. Under the new law, the secretary of state will now be responsible for buying voting machines.
Asked why she wants her office to have that control, new Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea alluded to the lack of progress the Board of Elections has made. “In order to avoid having our almost 20-year-old voting system break down on Election Day, we need to begin the replacement process as soon as possible,” Gorbea said.
The move to take over purchasing power follows seemingly unrelated controversies at the Board of Elections, where the board’s executive director, Robert Kando, came under fire for allowing John Celona, a former state senator facing $178,000 in fines for late campaign filings, to make an emotional appeal for leniency in a closed-door session in May. (Celona did prison time after pleading no contest to federal and state charges that he effectively sold his legislative office for personal gain.)