Chesterton Tribune



No touch screen voting for Porter County this year or next

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Contrary to what was reported in January, Porter County will not -- repeat not -- be rolling out touch-screen voting machines for this year’s municipal elections, but election workers will be utilizing electronic poll books and ballot printers at all voting locations.

The County will continue using paper ballots this year, and likely next year as it is a presidential election and not the time to be making any major changes, said Election Board President and Republican representative David Bengs.

“I’d like to see it all electronic but we’re not ready for that yet,” he said. “Ballots will still be filled in with a pen or pencil.”

At its previous meeting on Jan. 23, the board voted 2-0 with one abstention to recommend the County Board of Commissioners approve a new five-year contract with vendor Electronic Software and Systems that included $56,000 to lease equipment including touch-screen voting machines.

While the Commissioners have not discussed the matter, the board on Friday took action to purchase other equipment from its budget that will make some upgrades at the polls for this spring’s municipal primary elections.

“The intent is to make (the voting process) better by making things quicker and easier,” said County Clerk Karen Martin, who is secretary of the Election Board.

The three members agreed unanimously to purchase 41 additional poll books, adding to the 15 purchased last year, for about $90,000. Also, a tabulation machine and software that would count all absentee ballots in one location for about $35,000, a discount of almost $30,000. Lastly, equipment and software for a fourth early voting satellite location was also purchased for roughly $10,000.

Before voting on the purchases, Jerome Davison who was proxy for Democratic board member J.J. Stanckiewicz questioned if the board could afford the purchases. Martin said there are sufficient funds in the budget and there will be a savings because of not having to print as many ballots.

Martin made the initial push last year to use e-poll books and on-demand ballot printers because such a large number of ballots would go unused. The new method, according to Martin, will net a savings of approximately $70,000.

E-poll books, for most of the time, would scan the bar code on the back of a voter’s driver’s license and tell the poll worker what ballot is needed without him or her having to look up the information, and will operate through a secure network. Only the poll worker would see the computer screen.

The poll book keeps record of the vote and prevents a voter from trying to vote multiple times.

From the audience, Chesterton attorney Terry Hiestand expressed concern about the dangers and potential snafus with using the new machines and software, in the wake of news this past week, with the ISTEP+ exam freezing up during a computer stress test and the massive cyber hack reported by Anthem Insurance.

Martin and Bengs said they have researched how the new equipment has worked in other counties and what has been done when there have been issues. If a piece of equipment malfunctions, there will be a back-up to replace it, Bengs said.

As for the information stored in the e-poll books, Martin said the information is public record anyway and Bengs added that it does not include private information such as a voter’s social security number.

Bengs said the system “will never be perfect” but many counties are moving toward electronic voting. Lake County is one county that uses touch screens and voters there have given positive feedback because the candidates’ names are larger and easier to read.

In the matter of early voting, Bengs said the board cannot approve a new early voting site until the equipment is procured and will do so at its next meeting on March 13.

Since 2012, early voting has taken place at the Voters Registration Office, or County Clerks’ office in Valparaiso, at the North Government Complex in Portage, and at Chesterton Town Hall. The new additional location is planned for either Kouts or Hebron for the convenience of voters in the southern half of the county.

Polling place change in Jackson Twp.

Before adjourning, Republican Director for the Voters Registration office Sundae Schoon asked that the board combine Jackson Twp. voting precinct 4 with Liberty Twp. precinct 1.

Schoon said there are only 24 registered voters in Jackson 4 and it would be a shorter distance for them to vote at the Liberty Twp. Fire Dept., where Liberty 1 votes, than at their current voting location -- Jackson Twp. Elementary School.

Even though the precincts are in different townships, Schoon told the Chesterton Tribune there are other instances in the county where voters from one township vote in another. Ballots for Liberty 1 and Jackson 4 will be at Liberty Twp. FD.

The board voted 3-0 in favor of the change.


Posted 2/16/2015