May 6, 2006
 
COMMENTARY: No, ES&S is Not a Division of FEMA: It Just Seems Like It in Wake of Foul-ups
 
By David M. Kinchen
Editor, Huntington News Network
 
Hinton, WV (HNN) – No, contrary to what some may think, Election Systems & Software (ES&S) is not a division of FEMA.
 
ES&S has gotten West Virginia Secretary of State Betty Ireland’s Irish up with delays in providing software to run the new touch-screen voting machines, but thanks to above and beyond the call of duty service on the part of the state’s 55 county clerks and their staffs, all might be well on election day, Tuesday, May 9.
 
On Friday, May 5, 2006, Ben Beakes of the Secretary of State’s office told HNN that 25 to 30 counties are set to go on Tuesday, with all the electronic ballots delivered to all the machines. Raleigh, Logan and Kanawha counties are among those ready, with Cabell County expected to be fully operational by election day. Summers County is ready to go, too, according to County Clerk Mary Beth Merritt. She said the software was delivered on Monday, May 1 – well behind schedule – but long hours of work have paid off and all the machines are working properly.
 
Beakes said the statewide situation is in a state of flux and his office is calling all the clerks for periodic updates. He suggested that HNN call back on Monday, May 8, the day before the primary.
 
ES&S, based in Omaha, NE, was one of three companies that submitted bids in response to the Secretary of State’s request for proposals (RFP). It was chosen because of its excellent reputation, which seems to be tarnished by the latest foul-up. Beakes and Merritt don’t blame the West Virginia subcontractor, Casto & Harris, which is responsible for getting the electronic ballots to all the counties.
 
Late in April, Kanawha County Circuit Judge Paul Zakaib issued an order extending the testing deadline for the new machines until the day before the election; under state law, all testing must be completed by one week before the primary, which would have been Tuesday, May 2.
 
“I’m absolutely appalled by ES&S’s delays and the hardships ES&S has placed on our county officials,” Ireland said last week.
 
Backup plans involving paper ballots or optical scan ballots are in place – in case all 55 counties aren’t up and running on Primary Election Day, the Secretary of State’s office said.