Jackson County will receive new electronic voting machines thanks to a grant from the state and matching funds from the Jackson County Commission.

Earlier this week, the West Virginia State Election Commission approved $6,535,478.96 in grant funding to 41 of the state’s 55 counties who applied for financial support to improve election security. Jackson County Clerk Cheryl Bright applied for funding and the county will receive a $316,736.89 share of the grant.

The grants are part of a funding project established by Secretary of State Mac Warner to improve the administration of elections for federal office, including the enhancement of election technology and improvements to election security. For Jackson County, this will mean new voting machines and improved physical security of areas where election information and equipment are stored, Bright said.

The total cost of the machines and improvements is around $600,000, with the county paying the remainder after the grant is applied. The new machines will be rolled out after the election in November. Bright said she felt her office would need some time to learn the specifics of operating the new systems.

The county’s voting machines are nearly 20 years old. The new units will use touch-screen technology, but would not employ the “paper roll” method of recording a hard copy, Bright said. Instead, the machines print a hard copy for the ballot box on a cardstock piece of paper that is inserted into the machine when the voter casts a ballot.

This will be an improvement since the paper roll mechanisms have been problematic, Bright said.

“We’ve had to take them apart a lot because of paper jams. It’s not easy, you have to take the entire face of the machine off,” she said.

Commission President Dick Waybright and commissioners Mitch Morrison and Mike Randolph said they are pleased the county is receiving the grant funding.

Through the company that sells the new voting machines, ES&S, the county can get four years financing at zero percent interest rate for 10 new voting machines and the devices used to tabulate votes.

Bright said other counties in West Virginia may be interested in purchasing Jackson County’s old equipment.

West Virginia secured approximately $3.6 million in federal funding under the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) in April 2018. Combined with repurposed monies of approximately $2.9 million from the former HAVA loan fund, which was modified by the Legislature in 2018 into a loan and grant fund, Warner immediately established a grant application process to distribute 100 percent of the available $6.5 million in HAVA funds to West Virginia counties. Depending on the items requested, counties are required to supply a percentage of matching funds to leverage the overall enhancement of election technology and security in West Virginia.

“Any time we can secure federal money to help our county clerks leverage additional local funding to address election security, we’re going to do our best to get it. The upgrades and improvements that will be made because of this funding will continue to increase confidence in our election system at the local level,” Warner said.

Warner’s grant process included the establishment of a HAVA Grant Board that thoroughly reviewed all 41 county applications. The Grant Board is comprised of Putnam County Clerk Brian Wood, Boone County Clerk Roger Toney, the Governor’s Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Rebecca Blaine, Disability Rights of WV advocate Joy Doss, and Donald “Deak” Kersey, the Elections Division Director and Deputy Counsel for the Secretary of State.

“I want to extend my sincere appreciation to the members of the grant board. They did a lot of hard work in a short period of time to make sure that counties get the financial support they need as soon as possible,” Warner said.

On Tuesday morning, the State Election Commission met and approved all the recommended distributions from the Grant Board.

“Our county clerks appreciate this opportunity to secure state and federal assistance to help modernize their county’s voting technology to better serve the voters,” said Donald Kersey, the Director of the West Virginia Secretary of State Elections Division.

The $6.5 million allocated to the counties will result in more than $12.6 million in new election systems, physical and cyber security upgrades throughout the state.