Voters cast their ballots at The Plaza mall. (File photo by Leila Kheiry)

The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly voted Monday against a proposed motion to lease and eventually buy new ballot-counting equipment.

The motion called for spending about $6,400 this year. It would have been the first of eight annual installments for the equipment, which the borough and City of Ketchikan would share for local elections only.

State-provided equipment must be used for state elections, and has been used for local elections, too. However, that equipment is nearly 20 years old and becoming less reliable. Borough Clerk Kacie Paxton reports that during the Oct. 4th municipal election, two machines broke down; and during the Nov. 8th general election, three machines had mechanical failures.  

Paxton told the Assembly that equipment failures can affect public perception of the voting process.

“The votes have been accurately counted, but it’s the appearance of something went wrong on Election Day, when a piece of equipment starts to fail, that sends a pretty strong message,” she told the Assembly. “Again, the voter confidence in the election process is of the utmost importance.”

The Ketchikan City Council already has appropriated funds to lease and eventually purchase the equipment, although the Council has not yet approved a contract. Monday’s Assembly vote was to provide a borough share in the cost.

Assembly Member Glen Thompson argued that election equipment is a state responsibility. He said the borough should pressure state officials instead of spending local money for equipment.

“Talk to the lieutenant governor, who’s in charge of elections, and say, ‘Your elections are becoming cumbersome and difficult and people are getting a bad perception because you have crappy machines. Fix it,’” Thompson said. 

The motion to purchase new local voting equipment failed in a 4-2 vote. Assembly Members John Harrington and Felix Wong voted yes. Assembly Member Judith McQuerry was absent.

The Ketchikan City Council is scheduled to vote on a contract for the election equipment next month.

Also on Monday, the Assembly voted unanimously to accept First City Rotary’s donation of a media booth for Esther Shea Field at Fawn Mountain Elementary School.

Rotary member Clay Keene told the Assembly that the media booth would allow local broadcasters to air the games over radio and television when it’s raining, without potentially damaging sensitive equipment.

“We will build it, we’ll pay for it, we’ll donate it to the borough; the borough will accept it and take responsibility for it,” he said. “The only thing that First City asks is if we can put a plaque on there that acknowledges that it was donated and constructed by First City Rotary.”

Keene said live broadcasts of athletic events will allow members of the community to participate, even if they can’t attend a game in person. He said he hopes the next project will be bleachers, and, eventually, covered bleachers.