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Stark County BOE Stands By Recommendation To Buy Dominion Voting Machines

Stark County Commissioners will need to approve the purchase of new Dominion Voting Systems voting machines for the county. [vesperstock / Shutterstock]
A row of voting booths

Stark County election officials are defending their recommendation to purchase new voting machines from Dominion Voting Systems, the company targeted by false claims of voter fraud and election interference in late 2020.

County commissioners received an unprecedented number of calls and emails criticizing the choice, Commissioner Bill Smith said.

“This response from the public has far exceeded the response any of us has ever received on any topic to come before our board,” Smith said.

The commissioners, in turn, had extensive questions for the Stark County Board of Elections – which they said were as much about Dominion and as the lack of communication from the BOE regarding its decision-making process, as well as concerns about the production, assembly and reliability of the machines

“Today’s work session is not taking place because a specific vendor of voting equipment has been recommended,” Smith said. “A work session regarding the vetting and purchasing process of the new voting system would take place no matter who the vendor was.”

The county’s current voting machines were purchased used in 2013 after a warehouse collapse took out the previous machines, said BOE Chairman Sam Ferruccio. Those machines are not having problems yet, he said, but finding spare parts is more difficult.

The BOE has been aware of a need to update the machines for a few years, he said, and surveyed several possible vendors. Dominion is the best option for the county’s needs, Ferruccio said.

“This particular company has done a great job. We have a great partnership with them,” Ferruccio said. “They did give us a good price, and it’s a vetted product that I’m comfortable with. It took several months of looking at different systems.”

Some of the existing machines were built by Dominion and the BOE hasn’t had any difficulties with them, said BOE Director Jeff Matthews. Current misinformation around Dominion is “absurd,” he said, and the work of politicians who value their careers over the democratic process.

“There has never been an instance where the vote that was cast on the voter-verified paper audit trail did not match the results on the tabulation report,” Matthews said. “This is trusted equipment.”

Commissioner Janet Weir Creighton said that raises questions as to why Dominion is only used in 11 of Ohio’s 88 counties.

“If Dominion is the best, I guess I’m just puzzled as to why they’re not in more counties,” Creighton said.

“I don’t think that’s a meaningful thing. I don’t,” Matthews said.

The decision to use different voting machines varies from county to county based, on individual needs, Matthews said. For Stark County, Dominion is the preferred option, he said.

Only two vendors, Dominion and Election Systems and Software, offer a touch screen or the direct recording electronic method preferred by the Board of Elections, Matthews said. And of the two vendors, the county has a better working relationship with Dominion.

Dominion also offered a better price for the machines, he said, including more than $1.74 million in trade-in value for the current machines.

Stark County commissioners criticized the BOE for not communicating about the process of vetting vendors. It began in 2018, when the state started offering funding to counties for replacing voting systems. Commissioners were invited to a few meetings in late 2018 for vendor demonstrations, Smith said, but that was it.

“After those vendor demonstrations in 2018, all communications of the Board of Elections regarding the process of choosing a new voting system stopped,” Smith said.

Budget appropriation requests and other routine communications acknowledged the need to replace the machines, Matthews said.

“There was communication between the two offices,” Matthews said. “In the budget requests, in any budget hearings, we talked about when we were going to do it.”

Price estimates for the two vendors were delivered some time in 2019, he said, but the BOE opted to wait to see how the new systems worked for other counties. Election officials checked back to see if prices had changed in late 2020, he said, and voted to recommend Dominion in December 2020.

“You might recall, [2020] was a little busy for us. I mean, it was insane,” Matthews said. “Would I have preferred to have started that a little earlier in the year? Sure. I think everyone would.”

The county commissioners still need to approve the purchase.