[Image via passionsquared]

A Massachusetts printing firm and the state elections office are blaming one another for a recent dispute that resulted in the termination of the vendor’s contract. The Salem News has more:

The state has fired a Newburyport company that prints election ballots, alleging that the company failed to live up to the terms of its contract.

But the Newburyport firm, Bradford & Bigelow, is firing back, saying the state is blaming it for a much bigger problem that state officials refuse to address — problems with outdated and sometimes faulty voting machines. Those AccuVote machines are used by two-thirds of the communities in the state, including Newburyport and its surrounding communities.

The state terminated its $3.9 million contract with Bradford & Bigelow on Wednesday, the same day that The Daily News (The Salem News’ sister paper in Newburyport) published a story regarding a contract dispute the company had with the state, and the company’s call for an investigation into the Secretary of State’s Elections Division office. Bradford & Bigelow has been printing ballots for the state for several years, and was under contract to print them through 2017.

At issue are the ballots for the state’s recent presidential primary:

Bradford & Bigelow printed more than 6 million ballots for distribution statewide, and those ballots passed a first round of tests conducted in mid-January. About two weeks before the primary, however, the state reported that tests conducted on machines in a sampling of precincts showed problems with “smudging.”

The state ordered that all 3.4 million ballots destined for AccuVote machines be reprinted, which Bradford & Bigelow did at a cost of $575,000. Bradford & Bigelow submitted a bill for the extra printing, which the state refused to pay.

The Secretary of State’s office would not comment on the termination of the contract.

One major area of disagreement is the type of printing used:

Bradford & Bigelow provided The Daily News with the termination letter, which cited six alleged violations of the contract. Among the key issues was the way the company printed the ballots. It used a digital technique, which the state argued violated a term in the contract that called for offset printing, a more traditional method of printing that AccuVote machines require.

Bradford & Bigelow President John Galligan, however, pointed to another portion of the contract on which the state appears to sign off on the use of digital printing.

Galligan said the ballot industry has largely switched over to digital printing. It was a factor that allowed his company to provide the least costly bid, coming in $1 million less than its nearest competitor.

The vendor is also expanding its argument to claim both that the voting machines are outdated and that the state has failed to anticipate ballot printing needs:

Galligan said the larger problem lies with the state’s use of outdated voting machines. He said the discontinued machines have been banned in both California and Connecticut due to problems.

“The Elections Division is in denial about these issues,” he wrote.

“‘Smudge gate’ is a coverup for the problematic, discontinued AccuVote machines,” Galligan wrote in a statement. “With over 6 million ballots printed and less than 2 million cast, reprinting 3.4 million is a waste of taxpayers’ money.” 

Galligan also faulted the state for excessive printing of unnecessary ballots. For example, he noted that more than 1.3 million ballots were printed for the non-contested presidential primary races for the Green and United Independent parties. Only about 1,700 ballots were used. Meanwhile, the state also asked for nearly the same number of ballots for the highly contested Republican primary, and the company had to print and deliver numerous “emergency same day” GOP ballots to cover shortfalls.

Now, many of these assertions must be read critically in the context of a vendor fighting to reverse a contract termination that will be costly to its business and its reputation – but it’s nevertheless not an argument that the state wants to be having in an presidential election year. No matter how this is resolved, there will consequences; either the state will need to find a new vendor or the parties will be forced to work together in the wake of this very public dispute.

Neither choice is very attractive with a presidential general election seven months away. Stay tuned …