Indiana County Selects Touchscreen Voting Machines

Porter County's new equipment will allow voters to insert a paper ballot and make their choices on the screen before the machine marks the selections.

by Bob Kasarda, The Times / January 30, 2019

(TNS) — Indiana's Porter County Council gave unanimous approval Tuesday night to buying new voting machines and other election equipment, the third round of voting for the new equipment in a single day.

Council President Dan Whitten said the purchase had nothing to do with the three-day delay in counting ballots in the November general election.

He blamed human error for lost ballots and other mishaps causing the delay.

Whitten said the purchase had been discussed for several years, and it was simply time to replace 18- to 22-year-old equipment, which had a projected 10-year lifespan.

"We don't want to be behind the times in Porter County," Whitten said.

Approval was given to allocat slightly more than $446,000 as a down payment and financing the $1.3 million balance at 3.69 percent interest for seven years.

Councilman Bob Poparad suggested paying the entire cost up front to avoid an estimated $227,000 in interest.

Whitten and others on the council left the door open to paying off the debt before the first payment is due next year.

Newly elected county clerk Jessica Bailey said all poll workers will be properly trained on using the equipment and other election procedures prior to the municipal elections in May to avoid more delays in tallying votes.

The county Election Board gave its unanimous support Tuesday afternoon to the $1.83 million proposed purchase just hours after it was supported by the county Board of Commissioners.

Earlier Tuesday, Commissioner Jeff Good, R-Center, said the purchase is needed because the existing voting equipment is 18-22 years old.

Good supported the purchase along with Commissioner Laura Blaney, D-South.

The move comes in the wake of long-overdue updates of technology for county government accounting, 911 and its jail.

"We've been very behind in our technology," Good said.

But Commissioner Jim Biggs, R-North, who cast the lone vote opposing the purchase, said it was human, not equipment, error that resulted in the problems and the delayed vote count in last year's general election.

Biggs said he would prefer to see the county go through the upcoming election year with improvements suggested by the secretary of state's office and others to make sure the problems of last year are addressed.

How it works

Under the new system, voters will sign in at polling places using an electronic poll book and a ballot unique to them will be printed on the spot, said County Attorney Scott McClure.

They will then feed the ballot into a touchscreen machine and cast their votes with the ability to go back and make changes, he said. The machine prevents errors such as voting for more than the number of allowed candidates.

After reviewing and approving the vote on screen, the ballot is returned to the voter marked with the choices, McClure said. It is then fed into a counter, leaving a paper trail of the vote.

The county's current system requires voters to manually fill in small ovals to cast ballots.

The new system would do away with the need to sort ballots cast early and have them delivered to the appropriate polling places on election day, Republican Election Board member David Bengs said.

The county has about $465,000 for a downpayment on the new system, he said. The proposal calls for financing the balance over seven years with annual payments of $227,888 beginning next year.

Blaney said she agreed that human error was at the core of last year's election problems, but feels the new equipment will help address those issues.

She also felt it would not make sense to retrain poll workers on the existing equipment for this year's election only to turn around and require training on new equipment for the following election.

"I think this makes sense moving this forward," Blaney said.

Porter County Republican Chairman Michael Simpson said the new equipment is in line with proposed legislation downstate that would require central counting of ballots.

"We're inviting a second disaster," he said of the failure to act.

©2019 The Times (Munster, Ind.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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