The state mandated that all 95 Tennessee counties update their voting machine technology in time for the Aug. 3 election, and Hawkins County spent $235,000 to purchase new voting machines from Election Systems and Software (ES&S).
Both subsequent elections were marked by major delays in compiling the results. The August results weren't completed until past 2 a.m. the next morning because the Election Commission didn't have a scanning machine for absentee votes, and the November results were delayed well into the next day due to a computer glitch on voting machines that prompted the need for paper ballots at some precincts.
Hawkins County Elections Director Peggy Fleenor told the County Commission's Budget Committee Tuesday that she overspent her voting machine service budget last year by $7,750 due to increased service charges by ES&S. Other overspending was the result of printing expenses for the paper ballots, overtime for ballot counting, copier expenses and other office supplies.
"All the (voting machine manufacturers) have gone up on their price - they've tripled for their maintenance for everything they do," Fleenor told the committee. "Anything they do for you, you're going to pay dearly. We went over on our office supplies because we had to buy a special paper for all of those paper ballots.
"When they were selling this to us they said the paper wouldn't be a major expense, but it turned out to be (costly)."
Fleenor noted, however, that the voting machine problems were widespread across the state. In anticipation of those problems, the Tennessee Division of Elections made available additional grant funds to help cover the costs.
Fleenor said she was hoping for a grant of about $10,000, but Hawkins County will receive a grant of only $5,465. The remainder of the $9,391 shortfall will be made up through budget amendments from within the Election Commission's budget.
There could have been more money available from the state, Fleenor explained, but the state placed several stipulations on the grant funding that the Election Commission deemed impractical. For example, the state wanted counties to purchase a new TV and hold demonstrations at every precinct for the new voting machines.
"I will say that it's not only Hawkins County, but all surrounding counties, and ES&S sold their machines to 17 counties in Tennessee," Fleenor said. "We just didn't have the time or the money to do everything the state expected us to do. If they'd done it this year, an off election year, I could have done everything they expected from us.
"But when they did this to us in an election year, there just wasn't time because when you're getting through with one you've got to start another."
The Budget Committee voted unanimously in favor of recommending the budget amendments to the full commission, which meets Monday evening.