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