voters will cast their votes for municipal candidates on new equipment.
Newly elected Clerk
Jessica Bailey received approval to purchase new equipment after making
presentations and answering questions at three meetings on Tuesday.
First up were the
Commissioners, who Tuesday morning approved the $1.8 million purchase
contract with Election Systems & Software, pending approval by the Election
Board and pending the appropriation of funds by the County Council.
They split voted
2-1 with Commissioner Jim Biggs, R-North, dissenting on the grounds that the
County should be sure its personnel and training issues are in order first
before introducing new equipment to the mix.
Biggs said though
he thinks Bailey is very capable, he would like to see how the election goes
with the same equipment and process it had last year under her new
Biggs also said the
fact that he has heard nothing from the Election Board about what corrective
action could be taken and what exactly failed in November disquiets him.
“I don’t think
investing $1 million into the process down there is going to fix what caused
it. I think it was human error that caused the catastrophic failure that
evening,” said Biggs. “I think it would be healthy for the entire process if
we went through one election cycle with what we have today.”
Blaney, D-South, and Jeff Good, R-Center, disagreed on the grounds that it
makes more sense to rollout new equipment during a municipal election rather
than the 2020 presidential cycle and that the equipment the County currently
uses is out of dateÑit’s been in use for about 18 years.
Bailey met with the Election Board to finalize approval of the contract.
They voted unanimously to approve.
The new equipment
Porter County is getting includes the debated electronic poll books and new
touch screen voting machines, which make the process easier for voters with
disabilities. Included in the purchase is also a high-speed ballot counter
that will enable the counting of absentee ballots at a central location. If
a proposed bill in the Indiana Legislature reforming Porter County’s
elections laws passes, that piece of equipment will be essential because a
central tally for absentee votes will be mandatory.
Before the vote,
Board President J.J. Stankiewicz asked about problems with e-poll books in
Johnson County, to which Jeremy Burton, Indiana Manager with ES&S, responded
those problems were an isolated incident after Johnson County used their
epoll books for seven years without a hitch. Johnson County’s issue was a
problem with an internet server, Burton said, and the issue was exacerbated
by the fact that they are a vote center county.
addressed an avoidable human error in the 2018 general: accessibility.
Stankiewicz said he wasn’t sure each polling place was checked for ADA
compliance in-person last year. Stankiewicz said a former elected official
who now has a disability, Jack Jent, has volunteered to go to the locations
and share his experience with the Board.
Board member David
Bengs agreed Jent’s input will be valuable.
Stankiewicz had one
more proposal. “We should reserve the end of each meeting, perhaps limited
to 5 minutes, for public comments concerns and complaints so the meetings
aren’t a one way, top down discussion from us.”
The Board voted to
enact a five to 10-minute public comment period at the end of each meeting.
The Board also
promised to hold more regular meetings. Bailey said the hope is to meet
every third Thursday of the month at 3:30 p.m., as long as a room is
available at the Administration Center.
Tuesday night, the
County Council convened an emergency meeting to approve an additional
appropriation of $444,011.76 to fund the down payment on the equipment so it
can be delivered in time for Bailey to rollout staff training and begin
planning poll worker training on the new machines.
Burton said the
equipment can be delivered, “as soon as the Clerk is ready to receive it.”
Bengs said Horizon
Bank offered a better interest rate than ES&S at 3.69 percent for seven
years. The annual payments after putting money down will be about $228,000,
according to County Auditor Vicki Urbanik. There is no penalty for early
payment or prepayment. The first payment isn’t due until this time next
the total cost of interest over the seven-year term would be about $212,000.
Council member Bob
Poparad, R-1st, suggested the County should use cash for the purchase to
avoid paying the interest.
Dan Whitten, D-At-large, said Poparad made a good point, especially since
the County has enough cash in reserve outside of interest-bearing accounts.
Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, agreed that could be a good option, and said the
Council should have a serious conversation about paying early during budget
time later this year.
There are long-term
cost savings with the new machines, Bailey said. Maintenance on the old
system was $140,000 a year. The maintenance agreement for the new system
drops to $89,950 annually. Bailey also noted the County will save on the
cost of ballots. Under the paper ballot system, a unique ballot has to be
printed for every registered voter in the County. More than half of those
ballots often went to waste depending on turnout. The new machines print
ballots on demand, and blank ballots can be stored and reused for five
The new equipment
will be stored in two secure, climate-controlled rooms on the lower level of
the Administration Building, according to Bailey.
Poparad asked for
Bailey’s plans on poll worker training. Bailey said ES&S will help with
training, and each and every poll worker will be retrained, regardless of
experience level. Bailey also warned the Council she will have another
“We will be asking
that you pay the poll workers to be trained,” Bailey said. “Their time is
worth money, and it’s a hot commodity item.”
trainings will be in-person and poll workers will have options for where and
when to attend. “We’re going to have it at a variety of times and a variety
of locations. Information will be by PowerPoint so it will be the same
information every time.”
Bailey said she has
already started reaching out to schools and past poll workers. She plans to
contact every past poll worker and is working on ways to get information
about the new machines online and easily accessible on Porter County’s
website and social media pages.
“I think that all
of our problems will not be solved just by getting new equipment, as with
anything, and I don’t feel as if our old equipment really failed, but it has
served us well,” said Council member Sylvia Graham, D-At-large. “This has
been given a lot of thought. We do have the money in reserve, and I think
we’re moving ahead in a very cautious manner.”
that buying the new equipment isn’t a band aid solution for last year’s
election fiasco where 13 polling places opened late and results were delayed
until Nov. 9.
“This is not a
purchase that is borne of a bad election, though it certainly did bring it
to the forefront of the conversation.”
The Council and the
Commissioners heard an almost identical proposal for purchasing this same
equipment in February last year. Both bodies rejected the proposal then
because it was tied to a plan to cut polling locations in half just three
months ahead of the mid-term primary.
Whitten said the
purchase brings Porter County in line with its own quality standards. “It’s
one thing to say we’re the most solvent county in the state of Indiana,
which we are, but we’re woefully behind on technology, and those things
don’t mesh well.”
Bailey agreed to
provide updates on the election process at every Council meeting going
“If you hit any
stumbling blocks, we want know what those are the minute you hit them,”