News From Terre Haute, Indiana

August 20, 2013

Proposed switch to vote centers

Centers to provide voters with flexibility, officials with efficiency, savings

Howard Greninger
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Representatives of a company that already provides voting machines to Vigo County said on Monday that they offer a cost-effective way to switch from precincts to vote centers.

Jeremy Burton and Val Guyett of Election Systems & Software presented the company’s proposal, using an electronic poll book that registers voters by scanning their driver’s licenses or valid IDs, then sends requests for paper ballots to a high-speed printer.

The voter then votes as has been done in the county during past elections, by filling in an oval on the ballot, then placing the ballot into an optical scanner. That will save the county money, as it can use existing ballot boxes and existing vote scanning machines in 18 vote centers, Burton said.

Using voting centers “will be a big change, so anything that you can keep familiar and keep the same, it will make that transition that much more successful. It is about evolution, not revolution,” Burton told the election board.

“Your existing equipment is still good to use,” he said.

However, some election officials questioned the reliability of the scanning machine, called an M100.

Kara Anderson, an election board member, said, “Sometimes you got to decide when it is time to get rid of the car or put new tires on it. I think the elephant in the room is that the M100s have not been the greatest thing,” Anderson said.

“All I hear is the scanners, the scanners, scanners,” Anderson said. “Are we putting wax on a rusty vehicle by buying this, when it really is the scanners that were the issue from the get-go?”

Burton said his company will service the machine for the next 15 years as part of the county’s maintenance agreement. The county’s cost would be less than in the past, as only 18 such machines would be needed in vote centers. “When you can maintain them for a fraction of the cost, why go out and buy new equipment?” Burton said.

Burton told the board new equipment from ES&S will be available next year. The company serves government jurisdictions in 41 states and serves 61 percent of registered voters nationwide, Burton said.

Guyett said the thought process for vote centers is how much change is introduced. It can be all new equipment or a mix of the current system. “The question is how much time do you want to spend, and how much money do you want to spend changing the technology? That is really what it comes down to,” Guyett said.

“That is a key decision. We are suggesting you can get a big bang for your buck with some of the key areas. You have got to do something on voter check-in and ballot distribution; you have to, so that is really a non-starter. Do you want to make a change in your scanner device? You can do that. It is not required,” Guyett said.

“You are not wholesale changing with touch screens and little slips of paper. We think we have a plan to implement where you can implement vote centers, do it cost effectively, phase it in and mitigate risks and costs,” Guyett said.

In late June, the Election Board had a demonstration from Chicago-based RBM Consulting LLC, which demonstrated touch-screen technology intended to make voting easier. Under that system, once a driver’s license or valid ID is scanned, a ticket is printed to be taken to a voting machine. A poll worker will enter a code from that ticket into the vote terminal, which will display the ballot appropriate to that particular voter, based on residency.

After the person has voted by touch-screen, another ticket will be printed that can be inserted into a vote scanner. The electronic system keeps track of who votes where, so a person cannot travel among vote centers trying to cast more than one ballot.

“We still have to decide which way we can to go,” said Vigo County Clerk David Crockett, a member of the Election Board. Crockett said whatever system is determined, he wants a paper ballot as a backup.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard. greninger@tribstar.com.