Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Election results certified with split vote; poll book debate rages on

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

Democrats continued to voice concerns to the Republican-controlled Porter County Election Board about the performance of the new electronic poll books at a meeting held Friday to certify the May 5 municipal primary election results.

The board voted 2-1 to certify vote counts with the Democratic Director of the County Voters Registration voting no as proxy for Democratic Election Board member J.J. Stankiewicz. Kathy Kozuszek said she would not sign off on sending the results to the state because of a wide discrepancy between the number of ballots that were counted by the tabulation machines -- 10,618 -- and the number of voters who signed in using the e-poll books -- 10,284 -- a difference of 334.

Kozuszek said that Indiana law states that if the difference between the two is larger than five in a precinct, then the County Election board is to order that an independent audit be done.

“The count is off and in my opinion this is not an election that can be legally certified,” Kozuszek said.

This is the first election in which the e-poll books were used. Kozuszek said the CentralPoint system is supposed to keep live results of all the poll books and yet the numbers did not add up.

Republican member and Election Board president David Bengs and Republican Voters Registration Office Director Sundae Schoon, acting as proxy for board member and County Clerk Karen Martin, voted in favor of certifying the vote count.

Kozuszek on Thursday emailed a complaint to the two co-directors of the Indiana Election Board alleging that Election Board President and Republican member David Bengs had a representative from the equipment vendor Electronic Systems and Software come into the Voters Registration office on Wednesday to complete downloads of election data. Kozuszek said the representative broke security seals on the poll books to get the information which she believes to be a violation of statute that says election materials may not be tampered with until the deadline for a recount or contest has passed.

For his part, Bengs said the download of the log is a necessary function of recording the vote and “has always been done” for as long as he can remember. The download was to take place the night of the election as usual but wasn’t, due to lack of time, he said.

As for the 334 voters not recorded as voting by the e-poll books, Kozuszek said it is of “grave concern” to her that those persons will not be recorded as having participated in this election as part of their vote history.

The ballots themselves were however counted by the M-100 scanning machines that have been used in previous elections and, unlike the poll books, leaves a paper trail.

Bengs and Schoon said that discrepancies happen even with the paper poll books such as the poll workers failing to sign in voters altogether or voters signing on an incorrect line. In the 2012 November general elections, the difference between the ballots counted and the number of voters checked in was 183.

Schoon said that poll workers she spoke with remarked positively about the equipment and no one complained to her, while Kozuszek reported she received phone calls all through Election Day about problems. Kozuszek said there were voters who were turned away because of delays with the poll books due to bugs in internet connectivity.

There was also a report that someone in a Portage precinct voted twice, because he was afraid his vote hadn’t been counted in one location after a problem with the poll book there and drove to another location, where he was allowed to vote again. The matter is being looked into by Election Board attorney Ethan Lowe.

“Never in my 15 years of working elections have we ever had a voter vote twice,” Kozuszek said.

Addressing the board, Democratic Portage Mayoral candidate and current Portage Twp. Trustee Brandan Clancy, along with Portage City Council member Sue Lynch, brought up that polls in Woodland Park in Portage were unable to access the WiFi connection and voters had left without receiving a ballot.

“The people who ran worked real hard to win in this election. To do that and then have a system that couldn’t function? That’s a travesty!” Lynch said.

Other Democrats who attended the meeting included Party Chair Jeff Chidester and County Council member Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd.

Schoon attributed the connectivity problems not to the machines but to workers who tried to run the machines in a downstairs location. She said there had been an internet connection when the equipment was tested upstairs before the election.

Bengs mentioned that voters can be checked in even when there are internet connection problems by typing in a code to override the system.

The board will hold meetings between now and November to take note of all the problems and solve them as best they can for the November elections, Bengs said. He had mentioned that he never expected everything to be perfect in trying out the poll books for the first time. “We’re looking at every effort to smooth out the process.”

“All we can do is learn from our mistakes,” Schoon added. With more knowledge on what to expect, she said that the Voter Registration office will step up efforts in poll worker training classes this fall.

A representative from ES&S said he could not comment on how well electronic poll books have performed in other counties around the state that use them.

Update

Later on Friday, Schoon notified news reporters that the board discovered 239 absentee votes by mail and travel were not logged as part of the CentralPoint total and were plugged in to the discrepancy total, narrowing the difference to 129 voters.

She said that the “report from the data files” will hopefully tell election officials where those other missing figures are.

 

 

Posted 5/18/2015