The Porter County
Commissioners cleared the way for electronic poll books to be used at all
polling places in next Tuesday’s primary elections, approving the contract
the Election Board signed in February with vendor Electronic Systems and
Software, by a 2-1 vote Wednesday.
President John Evans, R-North, and Commissioner Jeff Good, R-Center voted
favorably. The sole Democrat on the Commissioner board, Laura Shurr Blaney,
D-South, voted against.
Democratic Director Kathy Kozuszek also expressed her opposition to the
purchase agreement for 69 new e-poll books, denouncing claims by Republican
members of the Election Board that this will be a cost-saving deal for the
approval turned out to be critical as the County Council Tuesday voted 6-1
to deny a transfer of $40,000 sought to cover the lease agreement with ES&S,
partly because the Commissioners hadn’t approved it.
President and Republican member David Bengs said he will try the Council
another time for funding approval, but as long as his board has the okay
from the Commissioners, the books will stay for now.
A Case for Poll
Bengs and County
Clerk Karen Martin, also a Republican, made their case to the Commissioners
on why they think the transition to e-poll books is the right move and would
be a savings to County government, by eliminating unused ballots. State law
requires that ballots be made available for each voter in a county, but many
are thrown out because a substantial number of those eligible do not turn
out to vote.
Martin said that
$49,000 was “wasted” in excess ballots during the 2012 primary election.
By having the
on-demand ballot printer with the poll books, the ballots don’t need to be
printed ahead of time for about $1 a piece, Martin said.
The poll books and
the printers operate on WiFi air cards on a closed system “that is just as
safe as your personal phone,” said Martin, disputing comments made at
Tuesday’s County Council meeting that the connection could be hacked.
The lease will also
allow for tabulating absentee ballots by computer in one location and poll
book scanners will keep an accurate count of who votes on Election Day,
which makes it easier for poll workers to see that the totals add up,
according to Bengs and Martin.
Martin said since
2010 the board has evaluated voting equipment to find ways to enhance the
voting process, including looking at consolidated voting centers. “This is
not something we got into lightly. We’ve done our research,” she said.
Evans did challenge
the fact the board moved ahead with the contract without discussing it with
the Commissioners. He said that it is the County’s executive body which
“We cannot have
political party appointees obligate the County to any expense, at any time,”
he said. By law, the County Democrat and Republican Party chairs are to
appoint a representative to the Election Board and the County Clerk is to
serve as its third member.
Martin told the
Commissioners that “at no time was it (the board’s) intention to avert the
process.” She said she believed that contracts were to go to the
Commissioners, but had been told once during her former years as a County
Council member that was not always the case.
contract to purchase 15 e-poll books last year was never an issue, she said.
Martin said that
the board intended to have the contracts approved by the Commissioners ahead
of the County Council meeting, but unluckily for them the Commissioners had
rescheduled their meeting to the fourth Wednesday of the month instead of
meeting on the regularly third Tuesday of the month, due to conflicts.
Evans tried to
smooth over the issue, saying “we’re not going to go back to back” and “let
the past be the past,” alluding to a few problems with prior contracts by
some election officials, and said he wanted to focus on the contracts at
hand -- one for the poll books and the other for the WiFi connection with
Good said he was he
would like the Election Board and the Commissioners to work together to
decide what can be done for more efficiency in the voting process, such as
looking at possible ways to consolidate polling locations, although he said
he isn’t ready yet to advocate for voting centers.
“We should work
toward these things and I think it’s something we need to do,” he said.
Evans asked if the
decision for the e-poll book purchase in February was unanimous with the
Election Board. The answer was “yes” as Jerome Davison who was sitting in as
proxy for Democratic Board member J. J. Stankiewicz voted in favor it. Bengs
said Davison works in Chicago where election officials have been using
e-poll books for a while.
The Election Board
persuaded Evans and Good to let it keep its contract. Blaney said her vote
against had nothing to do with party affiliation, but because of her concern
about the security with the WiFi connection.
“I don’t always
feel secure about my phone,” she said, referencing Martin’s earlier
A Case against Poll
discussion, Evans allowed Kozuszek the opportunity to speak and she argued
vehemently that the move to e-poll books would cost the County more than
$400,000 in equipment, license fees and replacement costs.
“It’s a money pit.
It’s not a savings to the County,” Kozuszek said. “If it would save us $1,
I’d be for it.”
Kozuszek, who said
she was speaking as both a county taxpayer and a voter, said the Election
Board had not included in their budget, approved by the County Council, any
line item to pay for the poll books. They are trying to purchase them with
money set aside for ballots and coding, she said.
“They say they have
money for them. There is no money for them. They will have to go to the
County Council for an additional,” Kozuszek said.
Martin’s analysis of the potential savings with on-demand printers. First,
it costs 23 cents to print a ballot, not 95 cents, and the number of ballots
available never reached the amount Martin projected, Kozuszek said.
she has 15 years’ experience running elections, and alleged that not once
has Martin been involved. Kozuszek ran against Martin unsuccessfully last
year in the race for County Clerk.
disputes claims the new machines are compatible with the current election
equipment. She said the poll books “do not interface with the M-100s.”
Kozuszek was also
disturbed that the executive director of the County Republican Party, Kenard
Taylor, signed the contract for last year’s purchase of 15 poll books,
sitting in as proxy for Bengs.
members of the Council with copies of the contracts and said she “had to
play hell” to get the information.
made an accusation that Evans conducted an unannounced meeting with the
Election Board minutes before the start of the Commissioners meeting.
“That is a boldface
lie!” Evans told Kozuszek, who stood firm in her claim. “You can check my
whereabouts this afternoon with the County Attorney.”
Betty Knight told the Chesterton Tribune afterwards that Martin had
handed her a copy of the contract outside the Commissioners chambers prior
to the meeting and attested that Evans was in his office.
Good said he
arrived 15 minutes before the Commissioners meeting and saw no evidence that
Evans met with Election Board members.
Later in the
meeting, two representatives from the group Women Praying for Porter County
approached the Commissioners, requesting permission to hold an event on May
7 in front of the Courthouse. “I wish you guys could have been first (on the
agenda) today,” Good said.