All that stands between now and what’s expected to be a monster contract for state voting machines is the governor’s signature, thanks to a 101-69 vote Thursday in the state House of Representatives on House Bill 316.
The Senate approved the legislation by substitute Wednesday, and the House voted to concur with the Senate amendment, eliminating the need for a conference committee and allowing the bill to clear the General Assembly.
State Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem and the lead sponsor of the bill, said it had five amendments requested by Democrats that were incorporated into H.B. 316, though several of these just codified what was already expected practice or specified in other rules or instructions.
House Democratic Leader Bob Trammell, D-Luthersville, again raised the question of whether the bill had a fiscal note attached, which it doesn’t.
“It has something better than a fiscal note — it has an appropriations bill, which has already passed this House and is pending in the Senate which sets the cap on how much can be spent,” Fleming said.
State Rep. Carolyn Hugley, D-Columbus, mentioned the possible $5.7 million in licensing fees — which Georgia Public Broadcasting reported Wednesday regarding documents drawn up by the state’s preferred vendor, Election Systems & Software. She asked whether these fees would be counties’ responsibility in coming years. The Secretary of State’s Office released the unredacted documents Tuesday, which can be viewed online.
“Well, far be it from me to ever dispute that a media report may be inaccurate, but that one is inaccurate,” Fleming said. “There will be no costs, initially, passed on to our counties if you vote yes on this bill that is in front of you, as opposed to the type of voting that I believe you were advocating, pencil or pen marked paper ballots, would be an incredibly huge cost passed on to our local governments. So, what you have in front of you is the best fiscal choice, not only the best secure choice, for the whole state.”
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Terry England, during an exchange with Fleming, said the machines are a capital expenditure, and they never have a fiscal note for a capital expenditure. He also said it’s understood that future, ongoing costs are expected with capital expenditures.
There’s also the matter of the 20-year bond, which state Rep. Bee Nguyen asked about in a parliamentary inquiry.
“Is it not true that we’re borrowing funds through 20-year bonds to pay for these machines, and supporters of this bill have indicated that these machines may only last 10 years, which means we would continue to pay for machines that may not be operable?” Nguyen said.
House Speaker David Ralston said he wasn’t certain as to the operational length of the machines.
“I’m not sure what the lifespan is, but it was in the bond package, which means that it will be a bonded indebtedness, for which we get almost no interest because of our AAA bond rating,” Ralston said.
Two Democratic members brought up that according to their data, if the state goes about this plan, the ratio of voters per machine will climb from one per 20 people to one per 25, which could exacerbate delays at precincts known for voting lines.
Gov. Brian Kemp is expected to sign the legislation.