V.I. behind on $230,000 bill for new voting machines
Published: March 13, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - About three months into a contract to purchase new - and legally mandated - voting machines for the territory, the Virgin Islands government has already fallen behind on payments to the company hired to provide the machines.
Election Systems and Software, an Omaha-based company that goes by the acronym ES&S, wrote a letter to V.I. Elections Supervisor John Abramson Jr. last month outlining the company's concerns about the government's failure to pay more than a quarter of a million dollars on a December 2012 contract for the purchase of the new machines.
"Please be advised that ES&S stands ready, willing and able to perform all its obligations as set forth under the Agreement and deliver to the voters of the United States Virgin Islands a proven United States Election Assistance Commission certified state-of-the-art voting system," a Feb. 12 letter from company attorney Timothy Hallett reads. "However, it was recently brought to ES&S' attention that the Government has not paid two current outstanding past due invoices totaling $230,009.48."
That figure is the net amount the government would owe prior to the machines being shipped to the territory, according to the payment terms described in the letter. Most of the remaining $416,480 on the contract would be paid after the delivery of the machines; a small portion would be paid after ES&S representatives bill the government for travel expenses, according to the letter.
Of the amount owed, $131,410 was due Dec. 19 and $98,599.48 was due Jan. 20, the letter states.
Attached to the letter are two invoices from the company, as well as two purchase orders from the V.I. government. One purchase order, dated June 20, shows $106,099.48 has been encumbered to fulfill the contract; the other, dated July 18, shows $540,390 has been encumbered for the contract.
Hallett states that ES&S has performed its obligations under the contract "and expects the Government to do the same by timely remitting payment in accordance with the payment terms set forth in the Agreement."
St. Croix Deputy Elections Supervisor James Weber III said Tuesday that the delay in payment has to do with accessibility at the new elections office on St. Thomas. Until the office is deemed compliant with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, the funds, at least some of which are federal, cannot be spent.
Weber said the office had a walk-through last Thursday and should be finishing up with ADA compliance issues soon.
Weber said he hoped the delay in freeing up the funds to pay ES&S would not threaten the validity of the government's contract.
Elections officials have been in contact with the company to keep them informed of the situation, Weber said.
There is no indication in the letter that the company, at least as of a month ago, was aware of a reason for the delay in payment. Messages left Tuesday for Hallet and at the ES&S media relations line were not returned.
Meanwhile, members of the St. Thomas-St. John Board of Elections said this week they remain in the dark as to why ES&S has not been paid.
"I don't know what the situation is," St. Thomas-St. John Board Chairman Arturo Watlington Jr. said. "The contract was signed, and I think it's safe to say no payment has been made since I've been on the board, which was Jan. 11."
Watlington said he has been trying to determine whether the money to purchase the machines is actually available. He said he expects to be in a better position to answer questions about funding for the machines at the board's meeting Thursday, where the issue appears on the agenda as a discussion item.
"It's very much a concern given how the last election went," Watlington said.
St. Thomas-St. John Board member Lawrence Boschulte also raised questions about the availability of the funds. In an interview Sunday, Boschulte said the money for the machines may be tied up until the completion of an ongoing audit of the V.I. Election System by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission inspector general.
Boschulte also expressed concern that if board members from both districts fail to straighten out the issue within the next six months, voters could find themselves stuck using the same 1980s-era voting machines that sparked widespread controversy during the 2012 election cycle.
Government House spokesman Jean Greaux Jr. referred questions to Weber or Mabel Maduro, who is Weber's counterpart on St. Thomas. Maduro did not return Daily News calls Tuesday.
Greaux said purchase orders and invoices are both required before the company can be paid, but for now it is an Elections issue.
"At this point, the Election System is controlling the payment process to this vendor," Greaux said.
- Contact reporter Lou Mattei at 714-9124 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.