TALLAHASSEE — Like rusty Plymouths in a salvage yard, the ghosts of Florida elections past are gathering dust in a Tampa warehouse.
Tens of thousands of touch screen voting units, rendered obsolete by the state's switch to optical scan voting, are awaiting new homes. Many of them won't get there in one piece.
It has been six months since the state hired a private firm to safely remarket touch screen machines in the hopes that both can make some money. But business is slow in a presidential election year with historic implications.
"We have made some progress," said Jon Yob, president and chief executive of Creative Recycling Systems. "It's an interesting process, marketing voting machines."
Fifteen counties — including Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco — were ordered to get rid of nearly 30,000 touch screens after the 2008 Legislature ordered the switch to optical scan voting.
Pinellas and Hillsborough purchased Sequoia Voting Systems' AVC Edge 1 machines, which can be cannibalized and sold for parts or scrap under the state's contract.
Nearly 12,000 Sequoia machines are being disassembled in Tampa, and Creative Recycling built a nationwide database of state and county election equipment to remarket video screens, circuit boards and thermal printers.
"Everything inside these machines is recyclable," Yob said. "It just has to be managed appropriately."
Most of Florida's Sequoia screens are 15 inches wide, and most states and counties that use similar equipment are switching to 17-inch screens, but the firm has found thousands of takers.
But under Creative Recycling's contract with the state, the vendor must sell another kind of machine intact. Election Systems & Software's iVotronic, the kind of machines used by Pasco County, can't be taken apart.
Creative spokesman Brian Diesselhorst said the 18,000 ES&S units, for which Florida counties paid as much as $3,150 each, are worth from $450 to $700 on the market.
They are in use in 21 states, and Yob said his firm recently sold about 300 ES&S touch screens back to the company. Selling them in bulk as backup units to states or counties is the goal. But Yob declined to identify any government agencies that have bought or expressed an interest in the machines.
"Nothing has been fruitful to this point," Yob said. "Our goal was to really look at every potential buyer."
Creative Recycling was the subject of an article in the January 2008 issue of National Geographic. The story depicted the company as on the leading edge of a new technology to responsibly break down the environmentally hazardous materials found in electronic equipment.
After being hired by the state in February, Creative Recycling lost nearly $35,000 in the first month but reported $431,000 in income in the second quarter, according to reports submitted to the Department of State.
Proceeds from the sale of the old machines is earmarked to help counties retire debt from money owed on their purchase.
The state receives 65 cents of every $1 of sales. The company keeps 35 percent, and cannot claim expenses greater than $5.19 for each machine sold.
To Florida's election supervisors, the touch screens are already a distant — and expensive — memory.
"The plan is to sell them in whole or in part," said Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Buddy Johnson, whose county spent $12-million for 3,100 units.
"It was always clear that it was the state's responsibility."
Steve Bousquet can be reached at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.