Greensboro voter

Alanna Jarvis casts a ballot during early voting on Oct. 17, 2018.

State legislators approved a bill Wednesday that could delay an estimated $8 million expense for Guilford County by giving its voting machines a temporary reprieve.

The state House voted unanimously for HB 19, which would open the door for Guilford, Forsyth, Alamance and other counties to keep using “Direct Record Electronic” voting machines through the next general election.

The current deadline for using such machines is December, which Guilford election officials estimate could cost the county about $8 million in the midst of a lean budget year.

The new measure does not name Guilford specifically — or any other county — but it gives local officials statewide the option of asking their county election staff to seek a reprieve from the state Board of Elections in Raleigh.

Guilford Elections Director Charlie Collicutt said he would welcome the additional year to use the county’s “DRE” system and research their replacement.

“DRE is a somewhat generic term for any system that uses a touchscreen and then the results are tabulated,” Collicutt said.

The bill authorizes the state Board of Elections to permit any county to keep using DRE machines until Dec. 1, 2020, if its local board of elections submits a formal request to the state board.

To win approval, a local board then must persuade state officials “that the use of the DRE voting system will not jeopardize the security of the election or elections” in that county, the bill asserts.

After its 111-0 approval in the House, the bill moves to the state Senate for further review. To become law, it needs Senate approval and Gov. Roy Cooper’s signature.

If the measure is successful, Collicutt said 20 to 24 counties statewide would have the option of seeking approval to keep using their DRE systems for the time being. He said the list includes Mecklenburg County, the state’s most populous.

Unlike their counterparts in some states, Guilford’s DRE system and others being used in North Carolina record each electronic vote on a scroll that creates a literal paper trail of each voter’s choices, Collicutt said.

State legislators passed a law six years ago requiring that North Carolina elections be conducted using paper ballots marked by each voter as a way to impede electronic hacking and other tampering.

The original deadline for the transition was 2018, but legislators later pushed that back to this year.

The Guilford County Board of Commissioners included a further delay on its list of requests for General Assembly action this session.

The bill approved Wednesday by the House supplants another sponsored by several members of the local delegation that would have applied only to Guilford, Alamance, Davie, Brunswick, Burke and Pamlico counties.

That bill, which would have extended the deadline through 2021, was still under committee review this week. It simply authorized those counties to keep using their DRE machines without review by state election officials.

The bill approved Wednesday seems like a reasonable alternative, said state Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Greensboro, one of the local bill’s sponsors.

Harrison said the delay was particularly appropriate because state election officials are still undecided about which paper-ballot voting systems they plan to certify for the next election cycle.

“Quite frankly, we don’t need to be spending $8 million on voting machines that might be obsolete,” Harrison said.

North Carolina election officials were supposed to certify new voting machines by last week. But they have yet to make a decision, citing uncertainty over who owns the three companies seeking approval to sell voting machines in North Carolina.

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Contact Taft Wireback at 336-373-7100 and follow @TaftWirebackNR on Twitter.

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