Albany County will get a complete overhaul of its election equipment this year after county commissioners signed a deal with the Wyoming Secretary of State’s office to take possession of more than $240,000 of machines.
The new machines are planned to be in use for this year’s elections and the agreement comes after the state agreed March 4 to purchase $4.8 million worth of equipment from a vendor, Election Systems & Software.
“We will definitely handle the responsibilities of testing and safekeeping and the ongoing maintenance of the voting systems that we will use here,” Albany County Clerk Jackie Gonzales said.
The new machines have been certified by the Federal Election Assistance Commission.
“Security measures on election equipment have certainly advanced in the 15 years since the State of Wyoming last purchased equipment. Wyoming’s elections will benefit from these security advancements,”State Election Director Kai Schon said in a press release. “Each ballot will be printed on paper – always creating an audit trail that can be used to confirm the accuracy of every single vote. Voting systems are air-gapped and will never connect to the internet.”
What might be thought of as a routine purchase is actually the product of a long political battle for county clerks.
The vendor announced years ago that the state’s current voting machines would become obsolete in 2020 and no longer maintained.
But before the Legislature finally appropriated $7.5 million in 2019 for election security — largely to fund new machines — county clerks had begun exploring other options for voting, especially mail-in ballots.
In 2017, the County Clerks Association of Wyoming warned that their serious election woes, which also include declining numbers of election judges, could make Wyoming non-compliant with Federal Election Standards, possibly “opening the door for the (Department of Justice) to step in and oversee elections in Wyoming, increasing the cost of elections in proof of compliancy and reporting to the DOJ.”
That same year, Secretary of State Ed Murray established a task force to “explore the type of election equipment needed in Wyoming and the means of funding the replacement of outdated equipment.”
With a plan now in place to replace Albany County’s aged machines, Gonzales said the new systems’ hardware is currently being installed and her clerks will soon be trained on using the machines.
Even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the vendor is expected to install all machines in all Wyoming’s counties and have all clerks trained by May 1, Gonzales told the commissioners Tuesday.
“I know they are working hard to accomplish that date,” she said.
Early voting for this year’s primaries are set to begin July 2, and Gonzales said it’s still an “outgoing discussion” between clerks and the Secretary of State’s office on whether COVID-19 will force major changes to this year’s elections.