The Porter County
Election Board is having its vendor, Election Systems & Software, step up
training for election workers this fall which they hope will remedy issues
with the new electronic poll books, but County Council members continued
their opposition Monday.
The board has
purchased 84 e-poll books and only 15 have been paid for, the Council
learned during second reading of the board’s 2016 budget. The election board
proposes to use $130,000 for the purchases next year after failing twice to
persuade the Council to transfer $40,000 to pay for the first installment.
The Council has
rapped the board for buying the machines without prior approval by them or
the Board of Commissioners.
County Clerk Karen
Martin said purchases of election equipment were made without the
Commissioners or Council’s approval by previous election boards.
Scott McClure was given copies of the contracts for the 69 poll books
purchased prior to the May primary and said he would look over the logistics
and make a report on Thursday at the Council’s budget adoption meeting.
Dan Whitten, D-at large, said he’s anxious to hear what obligations the
County is held to under the contract. He and others on the Council want to
know if ES&S has lived up to its end of the contract.
President and Republican member David Bengs said ES&S has shown great
commitment in assisting the board on a daily basis, while Democrat member
J.J. Stankiewicz said he thinks the board “bought a pig in a poke” and urged
that the contract put up for bids next year.
“We are dealing
with a beta version of this system. We’re being experimented on,” he said.
Both Democrat and
Republican Directors in the Voters Registration Office, Kathy Kozuszek and
Sundae Schoon, reported varying degrees of problems occurring now with the
poll books in early voting, such as jams with printers. Schoon said she’s
“not happy” but is optimistic the problems will be solved after workers are
trained to use the poll books. Kozuszek said she’s favored ES&S in the past
but alleges now that “they don’t know our laws.”
Sylvia Graham, D-at large, said the voters want to have a “fair, adequate
sound system” when they go to the polls and she doesn’t believe the poll
books are “user friendly.”
Bengs said the
report from the Voting System Technical Oversight Program found no internal
problems with the poll books and said the technical issues are the fault of
poll workers and that’s just part of the learning curve.
“If you want to
have success, you’re going to put the effort in to make it succeed,” he told
Martin and Bengs
said they would like to have one poll book per precinct next year, which is
a presidential election, plus 12 additional in case of emergencies, bringing
the total to 135 poll books.
No one on the
Council spoke in favor of purchasing more e-poll books. Council member Jim
Biggs, R-1st, urged that the board not obligate the County to any more
purchases until the system has been evaluated.
Council member Robert Poparad, D-at large, argued the situation is “a can of
worms,” no matter how many times Martin and Bengs claim that the move will
save money for the County. “There are flaws in the system,” he said.
Discussing just how
votes get recorded, Schoon and Kozuszek said absentee ballots that are
mailed in are stored and sent to their respective precincts on Election Day.
The votes don’t get counted into the poll book right away, they said. The
votes are entered manually into the state voter registration system which
counts the votes through “a smart update,” they said.
“With all those
moving parts, I can see how there would be problems,” Biggs said.
But Martin said the
discrepancy of ballots cast versus voters recorded was reduced from 330 to
35 in the May primary results once the absentee ballots were inputted and
that was a smaller difference than the 2008 and 2012 elections.
Moving to a whole
new system is going to equal a lot more costs, Martin added.
Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, blasted the board for contracting with ES&S for the
poll books without the Council knowing about it and then leaving them on the
hook to pay for it.
“To not consult
this body when obligating us to a very large cost is just fundamentally
wrong,” Rivas said.
Martin in turn shot
back saying she feels it’s wrong for her “to be chastised over every action
taken” while she has cut $388,000 from her budgets.
The Council took no
vote on the budget’s second reading. Whitten instructed his peers to wait
until McClure makes his report on the contract on Thursday.
In other matters
Monday, the Council approved on second reading a $14,000 raise for the
director of the County Animal Shelter in hopes that interim director Toni
Bianchi, a registered animal behaviorist, will take the job next year.
currently being paid out of contractual services, not the director’s salary,
the County Auditor’s office said. The proposed salary increase is from about
$46,000 to $60,000 annually.
the raise herself, saying its closer to what other shelter director salaries
are and would attract a more qualified individual. But the Shelter’s total
salary line item for 2016 is less than this year’s with the elimination of
an assistant director position.
Biggs said the
request is reasonable considering the Shelter will be moving to a larger
facility and he wants to see more improvements. He said he’d vote for it if
Bianchi would consider taking the job.
Rivas supported the
move with some hesitation, saying the salary is more than what most elected
Good, R-Center, said having Bianchi is “a two for one deal” because the
Shelter requires the services of an animal behaviorist.
approved the budget’s second reading 7-0.
Council is considering having the County’s GIS technician’s $45,000 salary
be shared among various departments that utilize the service.
The position was
put in to the Plan Commission’s budget after being paid out of the Auditor’s
budget for many years. Plan Commission Director Robert Thompson expressed
concern about whether his budget could support the cost given the decrease
in revenue from building permit sales, although the Commission will be
increasing its fees starting Jan. 1 which should bring in about $75,000 more
in revenue. He hopes to have someone full-time to work the front counter.
Rivas suggested the
salary be divvied up among the departments that have a need for GIS mapping,
such as the Assessor ‘s and Auditor’s offices.
The Council will
take up the matter at their meeting on Thursday which starts at 5 p.m.
Vicki Urbanik, after the meeting Monday, said the Council is still within
their $37 million target for the general fund, currently at a total of $36.3
million. That does not include however many of the proposed salary raises or
the Election Board budget, she added.