DuPage County

‘At last’: DuPage County to roll out new paper voting system in time for 2022 primary

DuPage County voters will cast their ballots entirely on paper starting with next year’s primary election.

County board members on Tuesday hired an election equipment vendor to replace outdated electronic voting machines with a new paper ballot system. The county’s election authorities and many security experts favor that method of voting because it provides a paper trail that can be used when conducting an audit of results.

The county will pay Austin, Texas-based Hart InterCivic $7.26 million under a four-year contract that includes the initial equipment purchase, along with license and maintenance fees. The contract also offers the option of renewing it for four more years and another four years after that.

The county clerk’s office plans to roll out the Hart system in time for the June 2022 primary. The company has guaranteed delivery of the equipment by the end of November, Chief Deputy Clerk Adam Johnson said.

The election infrastructure now in place is so antiquated that it relies on Windows 2003. What’s more, election officials say the old equipment will no longer be supported by the manufacturer in the new year.

Traditionally, in-person early voters select their choices on touch-screen machines. The Hart system will replace those devices and optical scanners bought by the county two decades ago.

DuPage County Clerk Jean Kaczmarek has long been advocating for the change, even before she was elected. The touch-screen voting machines were purchased in 2006, back when Kaczmarek was among those who said the devices were vulnerable to tampering. The Brennan Center for Justice in New York also has called on states to replace paperless voting machines.

“All ballots will be identical, be it mail, early, or day of,” Kaczmarek said in introducing the proposal to county board members in August. “At last.”

Election authorities also will accommodate voters with disabilities.

“There is no different size or shape of ballot for voters with disabilities,” the clerk’s office said in a statement after the board’s vote Tuesday. “Voters can use a fully accessible ballot marking device, and that device produces a ballot that looks like all others. Everyone will be treated equally.”

The county also will become the first in Illinois to use on-demand ballot printing for both early and Election Day voting.

“Not only are we upgrading to the most secure, transparent, and user-friendly voting system on the market, but we are also saving the county money by printing only the ballots needed by voters so there is no waste,” the clerk’s office said in the statement.

What it won’t do: electronically transmit results from each polling place to a central database.

Instead, DuPage continues to adhere to a long-standing practice of having election judges hand-deliver memory cards from voting machines to the county complex in Wheaton. Critics have blamed the process for delaying the release of results on election night.

The Hart system chosen by the county is never connected to the internet, officials said. But the clerk’s office anticipates it will result in quicker lines in polling places and “easier start-up and shutdown for election judges.”

The new machinery will integrate with electronic poll books purchased in advance of the 2020 elections. Poll books are used to check in voters at polling places.

County board members initially rejected a contract proposal to buy Hart equipment after some of them raised concerns about the bidding process. The county issued another request for proposals, and Hart ended up submitting the winning bid.

“I think it was done right this time,” board member Jim Zay said. “The selection has been made. I think this contract gives us a lot more flexibility, and we need new election equipment. We all know that.”