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Disability Action Center NW

Shoshone commissioners pause decision on voting machines

Shoshone County Courthouse
Photo by JOSH McDONALD

By CAROLYN BOSTICK
Staff Writer | February 27, 2024 1:06 AM

WALLACE —  Shoshone County commissioners are reevaluating spending options on voting equipment as part of a $15,752 Help America Vote Act grant award after hearing from the public.

The grant would provide for four new ExpressVote polling machines stations in Pinehurst, Kellogg, Osburn and Wallace to better accommodate precincts with a higher number of registered voters.

Commissioners are pausing to consider their options regarding the election grant after lively public comment during a hearing Feb. 13 at the county courthouse.

Commissioner Dave Dose said he was pleased by the amount of public interest concerning the purchase of additional machines.

“People definitely have strong feelings about what we should do to ensure voting is accurate. It was good to have as many people as we did show up to share their views in a public forum,” Dose said.

One future consideration is potentially taking the grant funding to a public vote if desired by residents, he said.

Commissioner Tracy Casady previously stated the machines could save the county money in not having to print as many paper ballots for major elections.

HAVA is part of a program to provide federal funds to states and territories to upgrade voting systems. The machines would potentially join the others to promote greater voter inclusivity per the Americans with Disabilities Act.

If a voter has a visual impairment, the machines provide audio and headphones, and the keypad allows for assistance for individuals who have trouble holding a pen.

Mark Leeper, executive director of the Disability Action Center NW for Idaho and Washington, said election machines are just one option for people of varying abilities.

“We want the same access as everybody else, we want to go into our own booth and cast our vote,” Leeper said.

During the Feb. 13 meeting, one resident asked why another person couldn’t enter a voter’s choices for a person needing accommodations because of a disability.

“Somebody can always choose to have somebody to help fill out the ballot, but for a lot of folks, it’s a private affair and they do it themselves and that’s what the machines allow them to do,” Leeper said.

Idaho received $1 million in 2023 from the Election Assistance Commission for 2023 HAVA funds to distribute throughout the state for updated equipment. Shoshone County has until December 2026 to spend the funds and purchase the voting equipment. The required subgrant match for the county is $788, before reimbursement.

The ExpressVote machines are made through the Omaha-based Elections Systems and Software.

Ballots are fed into the machine and print the voter’s selection for them to review before being submitted and tallied by election staff. The machines aren’t connected to the internet and utilize a keypad function to print out a ballot. Ballots are then submitted and tallied.

The machines are an option intended to guarantee more citizens the ability to vote.

“It’s just so critical and we have the technology to make things more accessible for folks. It has to be there and that’s what the ADA was intended to do,” Leeper said.