NEWBURYPORT — A local company that prints the state’s election ballots is calling on the state Inspector General’s Office to conduct an independent review of the procurement and management policies of the Elections Division of the Office of the Secretary of State.
One key issue: Bradford and Bigelow President John D. Galligan says the state owes his company about $575,000 for forcing it to reprint 3.4 million ballots.
Galligan charges that the problem is not with the ballots he printed. He says the problem lies with the majority of voting machines used in the state, which he said are an out-of-date technology that is prone to suffer problems. The machines, known as Accuvote, are used in 218 of the commonwealth’s 351 cities and towns, including nearly every local community.
Galligan also accuses the state of printing many more ballots than required, wasting tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars.
Brian McNiff, a spokesman for the office of the Secretary of State, yesterday said top officials there would not be commenting.
Bradford and Bigelow finds itself in a contentious situation: It is a fast-growing, remarkably successful company, yet it is threatening to bring legal action against one of its major clients.
“If we can’t settle this,” said Galligan, “we’ll go to court.”
Dispute with state
One of Bradford & Bigelow’s high-visibility clients is the Massachusetts Office of the Secretary of State, which is responsible for printing and distributing ballots. The company printed ballots for the recent presidential primary, held March 1.
Executives say they won a competitive bid to print primary ballots in June 2015. This contract required the company “to typeset, print and distribute 6 to 10 million absentee, specimen and official ballots to 351 cities and towns (2,173 precincts) throughout the state.” The company was to be paid $974,000 for the job.
For the primary election, there were 2,636 different ballot formats needed to handle the needs of 351 cities and towns, with four parties in each community — Democrat, Republican, Green Rainbow and United Independent. Most of the ballots were printed for the Accu-Vote machines. They are large paper ballots on which voters fill in an oval next to the name of the candidate, then feed the ballots into a scanning machine that tallies the votes.
In September, B&B submitted 15,000 digitally printed samples and by contract, sent them to LHS Associates, Salem, N.H., to review and test. “LHS approved the samples,” executives said.
According to a company time line, “On Jan. 21, LHS commences readability tests for Accuvote ballots. LHS approves all ballots for readability, with no comments about ‘smudging.’”
On Feb. 16, some issues of readability came up on “problematic, less maintained” Accuvote machines in the field, B&B wrote in its complaint. On Feb. 17, “the Election Division orders a massive reprint claiming B&B, not LHS, was responsible for this costly reprint.”
The disagreement over $575,000 stems from this reprinting.
Bradford and Bigelow claims “the responsible parties for the costly reprint is the Elections Division and LHS Associates, which was grossly negligent in their testing procedures, late and lackadaisical in their response times and negligent and extremely late in not disclosing the limitations of the aging problematic Accuvote machines.”
Galligan insists that Accuvote machines are obsolete, and election offices in California and Connecticut have banned them in recent years, he said.
“Accuvote is a problematic legacy system that is no longer supported by the manufacturer,” B&B wrote in a summary of its complaint. “Only used, refurbished parts for key items like the reader heads and rollers are available.”
Newburyport City Clerk Richard Jones, who is responsible for voting here, said his team has not encountered difficulty with Accuvote machines.
In a related matter, Galligan said that state officials have been wasteful by ordering more ballots than necessary in some categories, including fringe political parties.
He said that total ballots ordered for the United Independent Party was 651,900. But there were no candidates on the ballot, and no votes were cast. Each ballot costs taxpayers about 20 cents to print.
Bradford & Bigelow
Galligan started in the printing business after graduating from Boston College (’69) and Harvard Business School (’72).
He bought a small printing firm that had just four employees. In 1980 he took over a larger firm, Bradford and Bigelow, and in 2007 he moved the business to the Newburyport Industrial Park.
The company now employs 140 and has dozens of contracts to print books, magazines and standardized secure educational testing.
It is the primary provider for election ballots in Massachusetts.
“Our building has 50,000 square feet,” he said. “We need 100,000. We have land here, and we might expand.”