Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Porter County Council rejects new poll books on eve of primary

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

The Porter County Election Board may have to drop its efforts to upgrade to electronic poll books this election year, after the County Council on Tuesday voted 6-1 to deny the request to transfer $40,000 in its budget to cover the first part of a new lease with Electronic Systems and Software.

The Election Board in February agreed unanimously to purchase 41 new poll books for the upcoming May 5 municipal primary elections from ES&S, but board president and Republican member David Bengs admitted to the Council that the contract has not yet been approved by the County Commissioners.

Bengs said the reason for the delay is that there were “more numbers” needed from ES&S, but the contract is ready for the Commissioners to consider it at their meeting Wednesday. The lease also includes on-demand ballot printers at voting locations which communicate with the e-poll books through a Wi-Fi wireless internet connection.

If the Commissioners end up not approving the contract now, Bengs said the board will have to “send back” the new equipment and revert to using the former system of paper poll books and printed ballots on Primary Election Day, which is six days away.

The e-poll books have been used in early voting locations this year. The machines use a scanner to read the bar code on the back of the voters’ driver’s license, military card, or government issued ID instead of having the poll worker physically look up the name.

A week ago Friday, the board split 2-1 on an order to use the e-poll books in the primary election with Democrat Director of the Voters Registration Office Kathy Kozuszek voting against the measure as she sat in as proxy for Democrat board member J.J. Stankiewicz.

It was afterwards that Kozuszek alleged that the board had not properly bid out the contract, that no money had been allocated by the County Council for the purchase of the poll books and more money will be needed to cover the contract despite talk by board members of supposed savings to the County.

All Council members prior to their meeting Tuesday were given packets containing copies of the contracts and summary of new expenses, although it was not said if Kozuszek or someone else had supplied the information.

The packets said the invoices would total $168,654 for 84 poll books already purchased, $6,000 of which is for the cost of WiFi per unit and electrical power. Next year, $100,000 more would be needed for an additional 45 poll books in the countywide presidential election with $4,330 in licensing fees, according to the contract.

Bengs claimed bids were taken and that only 18 more poll books will be needed next year, said the County will save money in the long run by not having to spend as much on paper ballots by having printers at voting locations. Election board member and County Clerk Karen Martin had said earlier this year that the County would net a savings of roughly $70,000 each year by not having to print and toss away unused ballots.

State law requires that a ballot be available to each eligible voter in a county.

Bengs said it costs $1 to have a ballot printed and there are about 100,000 registered voters in the county, but turnouts as low as 20 percent have been seen in some years. The board is also saving money by not having to replace the current election equipment, he said.

The contract is being paid for in piecemeal fashion with three payments of $40,000 for 102 poll books over three years, which matches what is currently budgeted for the board, Bengs said.

The intention of the election board with the e-poll books is to make the process more efficient and easier for the voter, he said. Using the e-poll books would give election officials a more accurate total on the number of voters instead of fatigued workers having to manually count at the end of Election Day, he added.

“I think it’s a win-win for everybody,” Bengs said.

Council member Jim Biggs, R-1st, said he would agree on the importance of having an accurate vote count.

“I appreciate that as I won by a matter of 12 votes last year. Every vote counts,” Biggs said.

Council members Sylvia Graham, D-at large, and Robert Poparad, D-at large, expressed concerns about using electronic poll books over the traditional paper method.

“Why are we wanting to do this? This system is not broken,” Graham said.

Even though Bengs claimed that no personal information is being transmitted over the WiFi connection, Poparad said there is still a risk that someone can hack in and change information.

“Nobody can say that anything that goes over the internet is secure,” he said.

Poparad said he’s also worried that in two years the board will be moving forward with touch screen voting and putting the costs on the backs of the Council. Bengs said the hope is to one day transition to paperless voting, but he anticipates it will be much longer than two years.

Meanwhile, Council President Dan Whitten, D-at large, and member Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, seemed alarmed that the election board essentially “put the cart before the horse” in not coming to the Commissioners or the Council prior to signing the contracts.

“We’ve criticized the Commissioners for doing things without coming in front of us first. We’ve set a precedent. I’m not going to change that,” Rivas said.

The Council voted 3-4 on an initial motion to table the request which didn’t pass. Voting to table were Biggs, Karen Conover, R-3rd, and Mike Jessen, R-4th. Against were Poparad, Whitten, Rivas, and Graham.

A new motion to deny the request saw yay votes from all but Biggs, who expressed interest in the savings potential.

Bengs asked if it was possible to make the request again if the Commissioners end up approving the contract. Whitten replied he would be allowed to do so.

 

 

Posted 4/29/2015

 
 
 
 

 

 

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