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County Council to decide poll books issue after election

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

The dispute within Porter County government over electronic poll books looks like it may be cooling down as the County Council proposed a joint meeting with the Board of Commissioners and the County Election Board to decide together what to do for the 2016 elections.

The Council passed the Election Board’s 2016 proposed budget on second reading 7-0 Thursday at $558,650 without the $130,000 the board earmarked for purchasing 51 more poll books that would be needed for next year when all precincts vote.

Second reading was tabled from Monday so the Council’s attorney Scott McClure could examine the contracts with Electronic Software and Systems, signed by both the board and later by the County Commissioners.

McClure said 69 of the 84 poll books have not been paid for. The contracts do not require the Council to purchase additional an 51, he said, but not having those 51 “will have a significant impact on (next year’s) elections.” In short, the County cannot have a mix of e-poll books and paper-based poll books; it’s either one or the other.

Addressing complaints about the e-poll books in the May primary races, McClure said the feedback he’s got is “the service has picked up” with ES&S.

With the contracts for the e-poll books, there is also a service agreement with ES&S that ends next year. One of the Election Board members, Democratic representative J.J. Stankiewicz, urged earlier this week that an agreement be bid on after his dissatisfaction with the vendor. But board member and Republican County Clerk Karen Martin said that the software the County has now will only work with ES&S and switching companies would mean “starting from scratch.”

Council President Dan Whitten, D-at large, said he would like to find out if ES&S has lived up to its obligations in the contract. Martin and Election Board President and Republican representative David Bengs have commended ES&S for being on hand to increase poll worker training while Voters Registration Democratic Director Kathy Kozuszek complained of ES&S not responding to her when she had problems with the technology.

Kozuszek, who has been against the use of poll books contending they will create higher costs for the County, said more equipment will need to be purchased besides the poll books when scanners and components malfunction.

The discussion got heated at other times as Council members again expressed displeasure that the Election Board had not sought approval from them before signing the contracts.

Council member Jim Biggs, R-1st, told Martin and Bengs he would support the move if it actually gives the County some savings as they claim and said the County should be open to using new technologies. But Biggs took issue with the Election Board putting the Council in the situation of being obligated to pay an expense it had not approved.

“We did not create this problem. You did,” Biggs said.

Agreeing was Council Vice-President Karen Conover, R-3rd, who said the addition of poll books has an impact on election workers and volunteers and “nobody knew anything of the fact.”

Martin refuted that, saying Council members were in attendance at the Election Board meeting in 2014 when the first 15 poll books were purchased. Reiterating how the board was just following procedures used in the past, she said “we have $547,000 in contracts that was signed by (previous boards including) Stankiewicz that never came before the Council or the Commissioners.”

Whitten said he wanted to focus the discussion on what to do about 2016’s budgets. The $130,000 would be enough for the final payments on the 69 unpaid poll books but in order to do that, the Council would also have to allow the transfers in the board’s 2015 budget before the year is over, Martin said.

Whitten agreed with the suggestion by Council member Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, to hold a joint meeting with the Commissioners and decide a direction based on how well the machines perform in the Nov. 3 elections.

If the decision is to use the poll books next year, the Council can approve the $130,000 as an additional, he said.

Bengs and Martin both agreed to the idea.

“If you have reservations, that’s the way to go. We need to do the best thing for Porter County voters,” Martin said.

Voter Registration raises

Immediately after approving the Election Board’s budget, another clash occurred as the Council held second reading on the Voters Registration 2016 budget. The Council began to discuss the issue of salary raises and looked at the budget which contained $4,000 in increases for both Kozuszek and her Republican counterpart Sundae Schoon and an additional $4,500 for the two deputies in the office.

Kozuszek said the two second deputies would not be returning next year, decreasing the line item for salaries from $187,658 to $155,338. In support of the raises, she said Voters Registration handles a lot of the requirements that the three-member Election Board is supposed to do by state election law.

Martin however interjected that the Election Board will be making changes next year, increasing its involvement in managing elections, and expressed opposition to the raises.

Whitten then asked if Martin would agree with the proposal to eliminate the two positions to which she responded in the affirmative.

“(Kozuszek) is saying we don’t need these two positions, and you’re saying we don’t need them. I don’t see there to be any conflict,” Whitten said.

Martin said she would like there to be job descriptions drawn up for the Voters Registration employees.

The Council passed the budget on second reading unanimously with the raises intact.

 

Posted 10/30/2015

 
 
 
 

 

 

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