Nebraska needs to confront what may be a $20 million challenge in replacing its rapidly aging electronic election technology, Sen. Matt Hansen of Lincoln believes.

Hansen introduced a legislative resolution (LR403) Tuesday to create an election technology commission to study the feasibility and cost of replacing election equipment throughout the state, including machines used by disabled voters and to count votes.

"The machines may last another cycle or two, but it's time to think about their replacements," Hansen said.

"We're in uncharted waters," he said. "The purpose of this resolution is to find a solution to the $20 million question: Who is going to purchase new machines?"

Reacting to the proposal, Secretary of State John Gale said he believes there should be a broader study of the future election process in Nebraska in order to mesh future technology with that process.

Some of the voting alternatives to be considered are all mail-in voting and establishment of voting centers, he said.

"We don't feel like we're in a crisis or emergency now," the secretary of state said, "but we do need to look down the road."

All stakeholders need to be included in a broader conversation about elections, Gale said.

"We have more than enough time" to make those decisions, he said.

The initial purchase of election equipment used now was paid for by the state through the secretary of state's office, using federal dollars provided for that purpose. 

The state has reimbursed counties for maintenance of the machines, but it is unclear whether the state or counties would be responsible for replacing the machines.

"Counties across Nebraska are using equipment that is over 10 years old (and) the technology is antiquated," Hansen said. 

"These machines are crucial to ensuring accessible elections," said Bri McLarty, director of voting rights for Nebraskans for Civic Reform.

"Every Nebraskan has the right to cast a ballot privately and independently," she said. "Prolonging a decision on replacing these machines seriously jeopardizes that right."

Hansen's resolution calls on the Legislature's executive board to create an election technology committee composed of seven senators to study the issue and propose recommendations.

Hansen is a member of the Legislature's Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, which considers election issues.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSDon.

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Don Walton, a Husker and Yankee fan, is a longtime Journal Star political and government reporter.

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