News From Terre Haute, Indiana

September 10, 2013

Board backs touchscreen voting

Howard Greninger
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — The Vigo County Election Board on Monday unanimously voted to recommend that the county switch to a touch-screen voting system and end its current contract with Election Systems and Software.

The recommendation goes before the Vigo County Board of Commissioners today.

“We are recommending a three-year rental” with RBM Consulting, Election Board President Michael Slagle said.

He said a move to vote centers in the May 2014 election will reduce the number of workers required, lowering costs to the county. “It will save the county about $1 million,” Slagle said.

The cost of new equipment required for touch-screen voting would be $693,117 for three years. The first year would cost $220,117, then $236,742 each of the next two years. RBM Consulting will purchase the county’s current voting machines, which reduces the overall cost by more than $16,600.

Vigo County Clerk Dave Crockett said the savings are over a seven- to eight-year period, with savings starting in the fourth year after the initial contract is completed. The savings will come once the county buys the equipment and then uses just service contracts.

“We have an ‘out’ clause in our contract, and if for some reason we like ES&S better, we can get out of the current contract,” Slagle said. “As we sit here today, they are not equipped to run voter centers” the way the county election board is seeking, he said. Slagle added printers for ES&S are not yet certified for voting centers.

Crockett said the concern is having to change equipment over the next three years, versus having new equipment from the start. Crockett said the touch-screen system is more user friendly to voters and poll workers.

The county will have some savings from not printing too many paper ballots at the start of an election, then discarding unused ballots, the county clerk said. “You don’t have to worry about printers not printing,” he said of the new touch-screen system.

The new voting system includes 140 touch-screen voting machines and 23 ballot boxes. It also includes 56 electronic poll books, Crockett said. The poll books will show vote center workers the voter’s precinct and will provide the correct ballot on the voting machine for that voter.

“Voters will not need a voter registration card, just a valid driver’s license or valid government photo ID,” Crockett said.

The voting machines are manufactured by Unisyn Voting Solutions in San Diego, Calif., Crockett said. “We will not save a lot with the upfront costs of the equipment and services, but once we reach a buyout point, we will have savings because we will not rent or purchase the equipment,” Crockett said.

“I am hoping this equipment lasts 12 to 15 years,” the clerk added. “The savings is not having to rent or purchase equipment, just maintenance fees and services. If we are going to vote centers, we need to have a system for a full three-year election cycle and not be changing equipment in that cycle or after a year. It will make the transition easier,” the clerk said.

Crockett said Floyd, Montgomery and Jackson counties also will use the same kind of voting system, adding that other counties use RBM Consulting to conduct elections but do not use its equipment.

The Vigo County Election Board, Crockett said, will schedule a public hearing likely in the next few weeks as the first of two public meetings to establish vote centers. An example of the voting machine will likely be displayed at a public hearing, Crockett said.

The county is planning to have a vote center at the Vigo County Courthouse open for 28 days before the May primary election. Then an additional vote center will be open for two weeks before the election. One week before the election, an additional seven vote centers would be open.

On election day, the county will have 18 vote centers open for voters, Crockett said.

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