CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia election officials are negotiating a maintenance contract for the state's electronic voting machines.
In 2005, under the direction of Secretary of State Betty Ireland, election officials entered a single-source contract with Omaha, Neb.-based Election Systems & Software to provide touch-screen and optical-scan voting machines. The deal gave ES&S a virtual monopoly on voting systems in West Virginia.
The deal also gave ES&S exclusive maintenance contracts to take care of the voting machines. Jake Glance, spokesman for Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, said those maintenance contracts are set to expire in September.
Glance said election officials are negotiating with ES&S to renew the maintenance contracts. Kanawha County Clerk Vera McCormick said she expects the maintenance contract to cost Kanawha County taxpayers between $66,000 and $76,000 a year.
"It's preposterous," said Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper, who has been critical of giving ES&S exclusive rights to West Virginia's election machines since the company first won the contract. Carper said the company's monopoly on voting machines allows ES&S to charge whatever they want to service their machines.
"I've jumped up and down and sideways about this all along," Carper said. "What if the company goes out of business? What will [the state] do then?"
Kanawha County officials have filed several complaints against ES&S since the company started providing election machines and technical support to the county. ES&S has been slow to respond to service calls for hardware and software problems, and company officials have not responded to letters from county officials, Carper has said.
In 2008, ES&S touch-screen voting machines in several counties reportedly switched votes on ballots, leading to numerous election complaints. The glitches were ironed out and did not affect the outcome of elections.
ES&S has also faced controversy in other states, including Ohio, Florida and California. In 2007, California banned the use of ES&S voting machines.
Election officials in New Mexico have also found themselves locked into a maintenance agreement with ES&S, which provides voter registration software and ballot tabulators. State election officials said they had no choice but to pay ES&S to maintain the systems.
"It's their system," James Flores, spokesman for New Mexico Secretary of State Mary Herrara told the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper. "If you buy a Volvo and something breaks down, you have to go to Volvo."
McCormick said she doesn't have money in her budget to pay for the maintenance contracts. She said state officials may be able to work out a deal to pay ES&S for the contracts, and then bill the counties on a monthly basis for the service.
Reach Rusty Marks at rustyma...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.