City wants different voting machines used for recount. Not everyone is on board

VIRGINIA BEACH — The city wants to rent three high-speed ballot counters for the recount of three City Council races, said Election Registrar Donna Patterson.

However, three of the six candidates oppose that plan.

The city owns more than 100 voting machines, all of which count votes slower than other models.

“The slower voting machines that we own read about 300-400 ballots an hour,” Patterson said.” That’s slow compared to the DS850 High-Speed Scanner and Tabulators the city wants to rent.

“They read about 10,000 ballots an hour,” Patterson noted. 

What’s the rush?

Although the city was able to count the votes for the 2018 election within a day, a recount is a much different process.

“On election day, a voter can say that they want their ballot accepted by the voting machine even if they did not fill it out completely or correctly,” Patterson said.

During a recount, machines will be set to reject ballots that are not filled in correctly “so there will be a lot more hand-counted ballots,” Patterson said.

Election winners do not want different machines

Gary C. Byler, an attorney who is representing Louis Jones and Councilman John Moss, said his clients don’t agree to using different machines in the recount. Jones and Moss are involved in recounts with challengers Brad Martin and Dee Oliver, respectively.

David Nygaard, who faces a recount with Councilman John Uhrin, said in a recount “you’re confirming the existing results using the same process and equipment that were used before.”

Using the machines from election night is “the best way to confirm the results and validate the process,” Nygaard said.

Related story: Election official: Virginia Beach recount costs not in the budget

Jones, Moss, and Nygaard — all of whom oppose different voting machines in the recount — are also winners of the three City Council races being recounted.

Uhrin understands why they might feel that way.

“Of course if you won with the slower machines, you’d have more confidence in them,” Uhrin said.

But election losers want the faster machines

However, Uhrin doesn’t mind different machines for the recount. In fact, he welcomes it.

“Anything we can do to expedite the process but still maintain the integrity of the recount is a good thing,” Uhrin said.

Oliver echoed Uhrin’s opinion.

“If one of the judges deems that a better way to do the counting, to make sure that’s everything is accurate, then I’m all for it,” Oliver said.

Martin also supports faster voting machines for the recount.

It would certainly be an interesting check — to run all the ballots through a different machine to see if we get the same results,” Martin said. “I think in the end, everyone just wants the most accurate count of the votes.”

Why doesn’t the city have more high-speed machines?

When the city bought new voting machines in June 2015, Patterson said the city didn’t buy high-speed vote counters because they’re rarely used — and expensive.

“We typically only need high-speed ones during presidential elections due to high turnout,” Patterson said. “The machine itself is about $17,000 each” just to rent. Two machines would be used in the recount, while one would be held as a spare.

Representatives from Election Systems and Software — the manufacturer of the machines — will be in Virginia Beach Circuit Court on Dec. 14 to answer questions for officials about the machines. The recount is slated to commence on Dec. 17, Patterson said.

“We really feel that these are a necessity — the high-speed scanners — to get this done effectively and efficiently,” Patterson said.

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