Luzerne County has been paying $6,500 a year for ballot design software that was not used, the new election director said, a decision that might have cost the county as much as $45,500.
Marisa Crispell-Barber informed the county election board of the expenditure at Wednesday's board meeting. She believes the software was purchased annually since the county started using the electronic voting machines in the 2006 primary.
The board gave her permission to seek county funding to obtain training to fully implement the software and prepare ballots in-house.
The training would cost $15,000 but would pay for itself because the county would no longer have to pay the voting-machine vendor to prepare ballots, she said.
The county paid the vendor, Election Systems & Software, $33,563 to prepare the ballot in the 2012 primary alone, she said.
She wants to secure training to design the ballot for the May 21 primary. Another employee also would be trained, and in-house preparation would gradually build a ballot database that can be used by her successors, she said.
Former election director Leonard Piazza said Thursday he disagrees the software was an untapped resource, saying he used some of the components.
Piazza said complete in-house ballot completion was considered a risk.
The county never wanted to take responsibility in case there was a malfunction, he said.
Crispell-Barber also obtained election board permission to explore voting machine maintenance options.
She said the machine vendor informed her only 20 of the up to 867 voting machines have maintenance coverage, which means the county must pay for repairs out of pocket. She's completing an inventory to verify the number of machines, saying conflicting figures have been recorded.
Crispell-Barber said the vendor indicated a maintenance agreement on 867 machines would cost around $39,000.
The maintenance coverage also includes a discount on the machine motherboard batteries, which have exceeded their service life and must be replaced, she said.
The batteries cost $90 per machine but would be as low as $65 with a maintenance agreement, she said.
Crispell-Barber stressed she's not attempting to criticize her predecessor but wants to ensure the aging machines are maintained and repaired for the lowest price.
We don't want anyone to walk into a polling place and see someone working on a machine, she said.
Piazza said he was not aware of 20 voting machines covered by a maintenance agreement.
He said he didn't advise maintenance coverage in recent years because the cost far outweighed the expense of repairing less than half a dozen machines annually.
The staff is trained to maintain the machines in-house, he said, noting the machine vendor initially wanted to charge the county hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Piazza, who plans to legally challenge his April termination from the director post, said he advised the election board before he left to start exploring machine replacement options.
He said the county shouldn't expect the current machines to be in use in 2016, when they will be a decade old. More vendors and voting jurisdictions are moving away from touch-screen machines to optical scanners that read paper ballots and leave a paper trail, he said.
County Manager Robert Lawton said the funding for future replacement machines will be thoroughly discussed in the near future because officials don't expect the federal government to provide financial assistance.
The federal government gave the county $3.6 million to fund the initial switch to electronic voting and other improvements required by the Help America Vote Act, officials said.