A case of upper-case Public Service

“It is a huge deal because it extends the life of the voting system and has tremendous value for the taxpayers in Muscogee County … In terms of bang for the taxpayer’s buck, Nancy has done a tremendous job.”

Merle King, Center for Election Systems, Kennesaw State University

No matter which candidates and initiatives Columbus voters choose to support in the Nov. 8 General Election, every voter who casts a ballot can claim at least one election victory: the public cost of the local election process itself.

For this we can credit the loyalty of a former Columbus resident to her community and her former employer; the quick response an innate understanding of the meaning of public service by one of our most respected public servants; and the generosity and efficiency of Columbus’ primary philanthropic umbrella organization.

The short version of the story is that Muscogee County Director of Elections Nancy Boren has bought 400 new voting machines like the ones used here (except these are six years newer) valued at approximately $1.2 million.

Total cost to Muscogee County taxpayers — around $16,000.

As reported last week, one of Boren’s former employees, Maigen Skelton Ogle, recently moved to Colorado, where she soon began working once again in an elections office. Adams County, Colo., Ogle noticed, had a lot of voting machines of the same design and software as the ones used here; but they were just gathering dust, figuratively (and perhaps literally) speaking, because Colorado now mails out ballots.

She told her new boss in Colorado and called her old one in Columbus, and the latter asked the former if Muscogee County could buy the machines, and if so, how much they would cost.

“She said you can have it all for $10,” Boren said, “if you come and get it.”

Boren got in touch with Merle King, director of the Center for Election Systems at Kennesaw State — who, as it turns out, was also looking into buying surplus Colorado voting technology for Georgia.

“The gift of Nancy is she moves faster than the state as a whole,” King told the Ledger-Enquirer’s Chuck Williams, “and she was able to negotiate the whole agreement.”

The upshot is that Boren acquired 700 voting machines for Georgia, of which Muscogee gets 400, Augusta 100 and the state the other 200. Included for Muscogee County are 10 optical scanners for mail-in ballots, which triples the present supply.

Of course, the $10 “purchase price” doesn’t cover getting all that equipment here. Nor does it come close to covering the $60,000 in licensing fees for the machines.

Enter the Community Foundation of the Chattahoochee Valley, which responded quickly to Boren’s application for assistance with a $40,000 grant. She also got a $6,000 grant from the state, which benefits enormously from Boren’s initiative.

How many times the $16,000 bottom-line price this million-dollar-plus improvement will ultimately save the taxpayers is literally incalculable. It officially begins paying off on Tuesday, Nov. 8.