$32.2 million buy a bad deal for the state?

By Jerry Belune, Lexington County Chronicle

State officials and business leaders are questioning state plans to spend $32.2 million on voting machines from an out-of-state company.

Sen. Jake Knotts wants to know why the state would buy the machines from Election Systems and Software of Omaha, Neb., when slightly higher bid was submitted by a South Carolina coalition, Palmetto Unilect, which includes Global Electronic Manufacturing Services of West Columbia.

The Town of Lexington is already using the South Carolina system which allows residents to vote for candidates by touching a computer screen.

S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce President Frank Knapp questioned state officials sending $1.3 billion in state money to businesses out of state when similar products are available in South Carolina.

“The South Carolina Election Commission’s recent decision to award $32.2 million to an out-of-state company for a voting machine contract is a perfect example of the problem,” Knapp wrote in a letter to Elections Commission Chairman John S. West.

At least one of seven manufacturers competing for the contract, Palmetto Unilect, is in South Carolina.
Sen. Knotts provided the Chronicle with news articles and information detailing payments and campaign contributions the Omaha company made in other states to elections officials in exchange for buying their machines.

The Election Commission asked for a copy of Knapp’s letter, which the Chronicle provided. Executive Director Marci Andino said the commission followed the procurement code.
State taxpayers will lose about $51 million in overall economic impact if the Election Commission awards the statewide voting machine contract to the Omaha company, Knapp said.

The Small Business Chamber hired an expert — a Charleston Southern University economics professor — to analyze the advantages of awarding the bid to Palmetto Unilect instead of Election Systems & Software.

Although the South Carolina company’s bid was $33.6 million — $1.4 million higher than the Omaha bid — keeping the money in the state would have generated $2.35 million in state taxes, $9.4 million in income, $51.8 million in overall economic impact and created 292 jobs.

“The Palmetto Unilect proposal clearly offered the ‘best value’ to the state,” Knapp said. “A Palmetto Unilect contract would generate $2.35 million in taxes for the state, far exceeding the higher cost of the proposal.”

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