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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Buddy's election boxes came at high price



TAMPA — They’re called ballot boxes, but the containers Hillsborough's supervisor of elections office bought last year are so much more.

They have electronic sensors and a motor inside. A special tread is designed to increase capacity. And they cost $1,850. Each.

“That’s a lot of money,” said Kurt Browning, Florida’s secretary of state. “I would not be paying more than $1,000 a box.”

As officials sift through the $2.3-million deficit left by former Supervisor of Elections Buddy Johnson, it’s the $407,000 he paid for 220 ballot boxes that has raised the most eyebrows.

“That’s the primary concern for us right now,” said County Administrator Pat Bean. “When I heard how they paid for each box, I was like, ‘Whoa!’”

Johnson signed a contract with Premier Election Solutions on Aug. 14 last year for the boxes, which added to some his office already had in stock. These boxes, made of durable plastic and metal, were attached to optical scan machines bought from Premier earlier in the year.

But as Election Day neared, Johnson fretted about high voter turnout, said Premier’s spokesman, Chris Riggall. Johnson told Premier he wanted to expedite voting by speeding up the time it took to replace boxes filled up with ballots, Riggall said.

Browning said that typically poll workers remove the boxes, dump the ballots into a bag or a cheaper box, and then re-attach the scanner to the now-empty box. Instead, Johnson opted to buy more of the special scanner boxes.

That means that many of them were used for storage during much of Election Day.

Johnson's method, replacing the full box with an empty one, did have the advantage of speed. It is "the quickest way to do it,” Riggall said.

But was it also more expensive than using regular storage containers?

“Oh sure,” he said. “That’s fair to say.”

Even compared to other optical scanner boxes, the boxes attached to the Premier scanners were expensive. Pinellas, for instance, had boxes attached to scanners that sold for $425 each. Palm Beach County boxes cost $145 each.

-- Michael Van Sickler, Times staff writer *

[Last modified: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 11:43am]


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