by Todd Feurer, CBS Chicago web producer
CHICAGO (CBS) — City officials plan to spend nearly $19 million to buy new voting machines ahead of the March primary elections, under a deal to buy new touchscreen equipment that for the first time will produce a paper ballot.
The City Council Finance Committee on Monday approved a plan to transfer $19 million in bond funds set aside for the city’s LED street light program to the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners to buy the latest touchscreen voting equipment, which is more secure than the machines the city and county have been using since 2005.
Board spokesman Jim Allen said the city and county haven’t purchased new voting machines since getting rid of the old punchcard equipment in 2005.
The deal approved the the Finance Committee will allow for at least one touchscreen machine at every polling place in the city and county. Other existing optical scan ballot machines will remain in place.
The new touchscreens to be supplied by Dominion Voting Systems will generate a paper ballot that voters will now feed into scanning machines. Until now, the city’s and county’s touchscreen machines generated only an electronic record of a person’s votes.
Allen said the new system is more secure, because the paper record it generates will be scanned when voters feed it into a ballot reader. If any tampering of the paper ballots is later discovered, officials will still have a recorded image of the original ballots.
Records of the paper ballots will be stored for 22 months.
Allen said election officials are confident the new voting machines will be in place for the March primaries, noting election judges already have been trained on the new systems.
Chief Financial Officer Jennie Huang Bennett said the project will be funded by diverting $19 million in existing funds the city had borrowed for its LED street light program. That program won’t be completed until at least 2022, so all of the $69 million the city had borrowed for new street lights won’t be needed right away.
Bennett said the city will borrow more money later to complete the street light program.