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Council members question election director over ballot security issues

Voting in St. Charles
St. Charles County residents wait on Nov. 3 to cast their vote. (Ellen Hartbeck photo)

A mild discussion concerning the approval of a bid for upgrades to county election machinery led to a fairly pointed exchange between two County Council members and County Election Director Kurt Bahr at the council’s Nov. 9 meeting. At the heart of that discussion was the issue of election security. 

That evening, the council removed an item concerning the purchase of election equipment from its consent agenda, and held a discussion on this specific topic. Bahr explained the need behind the purchase of new Americans With Disability Act-compliant voting machines, which are mandated by the federal government, and labeled the item before the council as “enabling legislation.” He also explained the need behind the purchase of new iPads, known as “poll pads,” noting that those currently in use by county election judges are technologically obsolete since Apple Corporation no longer offers technical support for that particular model.  

In the question-and-answer session following Bahr’s presentation, council member Joe Cronin (District 1) pointed out that Unison Corporation, the vendor which supplies the machines to the county, is actually a Malaysian company. He said he would feel more comfortable with the county using a domestic supplier. 

Bahr replied that the election machinery industry is rather limited, with only four or five companies offering the necessary products and services for those products.  

Council member Joe Brazil (District 2) then took up the issue stating, “With all this stuff going on (concerning vote counts) … we’ve got to be real careful about these voting machines.” He argued that the national election and the many questions about the purity and legitimacy of the vote rendered it incumbent on the county to make sure that the machinery worked properly. He added that the purchase of the new technology should only be finalized after a full vetting of the agreement.

Brazil suggested that this measure be tabled until the council’s next meeting, giving the council time to study and evaluate the measure.

At this point, council member Mike Elam (District 3) joined the argument and stoutly defended Bahr. He said Bahr had been a very conscientious and dedicated state representative for St. Charles County, and was now showing the same professionalism as the county’s elections director. Brazil and Cronin hastened to say that their questions were not in any way critical or personal, but that they wanted more information on the purchase, and on Unison Corporation.  

Bahr responded that he took no offense but warned that a delay in the purchase of the new equipment would cost county taxpayers in the long run.

Ultimately, the council agreed to authorize the purchase of the new poll pads immediately. The transaction regarding the ADA-compliant machines was tabled, with action being delayed until the Nov. 30 council meeting. 

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