Chesterton Tribune



Porter County Council to consider new voting equipment

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The Porter County Council will consider purchasing new voting equipment at an emergency meeting Tuesday, Jan. 29.

The Council will meet at its regular time and place--5 p.m. in suite 205 of the Porter County administration Center, 155 Indiana Avenue, Valparaiso-- to vote on the matter after new Porter County Clerk Jessica Bailey and a representative of Election Systems & Software (ESS) discussed the benefits of new equipment at the Council’s meeting last night.

Bailey’s proposal comes after the Commissioners rejected a very similar proposal this time last year. The hang-up then was that the Porter County Election Board proposed polling place consolidation that would have cut Porter County’s number of polling places nearly in half along with the purchase. $450,000 was encumbered at the end of 2017 for a down payment on the equipment and remains earmarked for that purpose.

Last year, members of both the Commissioners and County Council expressed concerns that there wasn’t enough time between January and the primary to train employees on the new equipment.

Bailey said she’s confident Porter County needs the new equipment and that it would make voting easier and more accessible in Porter County, as long as she gets it fast. The earliest date it could be delivered is Jan. 31.

The equipment would include 140 refurbished ballot scanners, e-pollbooks, and a new ballot counter to be used at a central location. Indiana Manager for ESS Jeremy Burton said the “refurbished” equipment was used in one election and is still under warranty. Council President Dan Whitten, D-At-large asked why the county that used the equipment in this past election didn’t keep it. Burton said it had been rented.

Council member Sylvia Graham, D-At-large, asked how much renting is. Burton said he could get numbers on that, but it’s always more cost effective to buy. “Carrol county has always rented. I checked, and they could have purchased that system four times over in the time they rented that equipment.”

The price tag with refurbished scanners is $1.8 million, with a separate maintenance agreement at an extra cost. Burton said the cost of buying all new equipment would be significantly higher, though the ballot counter would be new. County Auditor Vicki Urbanik said the County could make a down payment this year and finance the rest of the cost. ESS offered an interest rate of 7.5 percent, and Election Board President David Bengs is shopping around for a better rate with local banks.

Burton said the equipment Porter County has, which is over a decade old, is no longer getting system updates, but ESS will take it back as a trade-in. Council member Bob Poparad, D-1st, skeptical of the term, asked if Porter County's old machines will go somewhere else marked as "refurbished." Burton assured that's not how it works.

“We’re actually going to recycle most of your old voting machines because most of the country is moving from the 100 that you have today to this new machine, so we’re seeing the market for that dry up,” Burton said. “Some of them will be kept as spares for counties that aren’t able to upgrade.”

Poparad was still skeptical of the purchase. He cautioned against buying in haste and suggested that buying the e-pollbooks might be unnecessary. Whitten noted the county has gotten complaints about them before, when they were used for early voting on loan from ESS.

Poparad also said the Council should consider where the problem really is. “Do we have equipment issues, or do we have people issues? Do we have a lack of training?”

Council member Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd expressed concern over the security of the e-pollbooks and the fact that they require a reliable internet connection--another issue officials worried about last time the proposal was before them. Rivas also noted that there are two sides to the issue, a people problem and the equipment being at end of life.

Council Vice-president Jeff Larson, R-At-large, said the decision to buy or not is critical following the troubles with the general election last year. “We have a public perception that we’re not ready to go on to another election,” Larson said. “We need to make a decision here.”




Posted 1/16/2019




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