As floods go, the timing couldn't have been better.
On June 27, the Madison clerk's office realized that several of its electronic vote tabulators stored at the Villager Mall had flooded.
"The storage space we have flooded from both the floor and the ceiling," says city Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl.
"There were 19 machines that had water in them for sure."
Fortunately for the city, Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell was already looking at purchasing new vote tabulators. The county is offering to pay for half the cost; each one costs $5,750, meaning municipalities would have to pay about $2,875 per machine.
"We got our money out of them. They're over 20 years old," says McDonell. "I thought this would be a really helpful carrot to help municipalities move over at the same time."
The machines — made by the Omaha-based Election Systems & Software — are the only ones currently approved by the state's Government Accountability Board, McDonell says. They also come with some new features. The tabulators automatically scan both sides of the ballot and create a digital copy that can be reviewed more easily than the original ballot (which is also kept). Those digital scans automatically recognize write-in ballots, and separate them in a file so they can be checked later.
"If someone says 'There's no way I didn't get more than 10 write-in votes for alder,' they can just go and look," McDonell says.
The new tabulators can also use lighter paper, which means the ballots will be cheaper to print.
Witzel-Behl appreciates another feature: "They're much lighter to carry. The machines we have now weigh about 40 pounds."
The city needs tabulators for each of its 88 polling locations and likes to have about 10 spare ones, Witzel-Behl says. There are about another 80 polling locations outside the city.
The city is waiting to hear back from its insurance company before officially agreeing to buy new machines. Other municipalities are already signing up, McDonell says, something he didn't expect to happen so soon.
He'd like to start buying the machines at the end of summer. He notes another benefit of the timing is that the next election, in spring 2014, is relatively small.
"Next spring is the lightest election we're going to have in a while. There's just county board and really not much on the ballot. After that is gubernatorial. There are some heavy elections in the future."