Bath County races to get new voting machines after last-minute state mandate

The county came in under budget, saying its old machines weren't a security risk

By Tommy Lopez - Weekend Anchor / Reporter

WARM SPRINGS, Va. - Virginia will be going old school this November.

The 22 localities in the commonwealth that have to replace touchscreen voting machines after a state-level mandate came down just two months before the Nov. 7 election. They will be doing so with scanners that take pen-and-paper ballots, to decrease security risks.

Many towns in Virginia are scrambling to get new voting machines after the Department of Elections decertified Direct Recording Electronic devices, or DREs, over security concerns. Bath County leaders were able to buy new ones, but had to react quickly.

The Board of Supervisors approved buying nine new machines a week ago.

“It goes back to when I was in high school 50 years ago,” Bath County Director of Elections Charles Garratt said, referring to filling in a circle on a piece of paper.

Garratt found a way to spend half of the $200,000 supervisors anticipated needing to use on the new machines, and use part of next fiscal year’s budget for the purchases.

Before the proposal, county leaders were nervous, like administrator Ashton Harrison.

"My initial worry was that we wouldn't be able to obtain equipment at all,” he said.

Supervisors like Bart Perdue are glad they found a solution.

“You're definitely frustrated that somebody's making you spend this money that you really don't want to spend right now,” he said.

Garratt says the old touchscreens would have been good for at least a few more years.

“If the General Assembly and the Department of Elections hadn't told us to get rid of them, we would still continue to use them,” he said.

But some feared these touchscreens in Bath County could be hacked, after hackers successfully got into similar machines at a conference earlier this year in Las Vegas.

Garratt thinks these machines were fine and could only have been hacked by an inside job, not by someone from the outside.

“It wasn't a real-world test,” he said, referring to the mock situation the hackers used.

The county had been using the old machines for 13 years.

“Bath has the money so they can write the check in July, but for Tazewell and Wise and some of those out there, it's going to be a challenge,” Garratt said.

Bath County is scheduled to get the new scanners by the end of the month.

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