Board split on voting equipment

By Cecilia Fox -

MIAMI COUNTY — Split over new voting equipment, the Miami County Board of Elections tabled a vote on the purchase Tuesday night.

The board is divided over two styles of voting systems, with Chairman Dave Fisher and Audrey Gillespie in favor of a hand-marked paper ballot system, and Ryan King in favor of a hybrid system in which voters use a touch screen to mark a ballot that is then printed.

“Here’s what I’m proposing: If we believe we have a 2-2, impassible spot anyway, and we think we have more questions, I don’t know what the intention was today, but I personally don’t think we’re at a place where we need to vote on anything,” King said, adding that he thinks there is more “research that can, and probably should, be done.”

Rob Long said he supported tabling the vote, adding that he wanted more information on what other counties are doing.

“I don’t think we have to make this decision today,” he said.

Fisher said he thinks a decision on the voting equipment needs to be made sooner rather than later. “I was ready to vote last week, I was ready to vote again today. I’m still ready to vote today,” he said.

The board disputed the security of either system, future costs associated with each and the long-term usefulness of both, and discussed the hardware and software needs for each and the storage space needed for the equipment.

Fisher argued that hand-marked paper ballots are simpler and more reliable, saying that electronic machines have the possibility for failure.

“Where (with) a paper ballot? You’re still voting. You lose power, heaven forbid we have a natural disaster here, we’ve still got to vote,” he said. “And just the sheer cost. It just boggles my mind that we wanting to spend another three-quarters of a million dollars just to have a machine mark (ballots) for us.”

Fisher and Gillespie also argued that the hand-marked ballot scanning software would be easier to update than hardware.

King said returning to paper ballots “seems like we’re simplifying things … we’re actually changing a system that’s been in place for 14 years now.” The county currently uses touch-screen voting machines.

He acknowledged that Clear Ballot’s scanning software for hand-marked ballots is impressive, but disagreed with the “need for that technology.”

“It’s something that’s unnecessary. We don’t need to evaluate the markings on a ballot, if there’s no markings to evaluate. The printer on a hybrid system is going to print out accurately,” King said.

Gillespie said that many people are concerned about the security of voting electronically and the possibility of election hacking.

“That’s wrong, you understand that. They’re incorrect,” King said. He has previously pointed out that all results are tabulated electronically regardless of how the ballots are cast. “We’re not going to make a decision based on blatantly incorrect information.”

Gillespie said that, although she personally likes the hybrid system, she feels the paper system would be a more fiscally responsible choice. The board received two quotes for a paper ballot system, one from Clear Ballot Group for $790,125 and one from Election Systems & Software (ES&S) for $507,609.

“It seems like there’s so many things that we could be spending that money on that would help day to day operations,” she said.

The county is set to be reimbursed up to $1,096,490 by the state and has received four quotes for new equipment ranging in cost from about $507,000 to about $2 million. In a meeting with the Miami County Commissioners last week, the commissioners advised the board to choose what they deem to be the best option for the county, even if the cost exceeds the reimbursement from the state.

The commissioners wrote a letter to the Board of Elections confirming what they said in last week’s meeting. The letter also included the commissioners’ preference for the hybrid voting system from ES&S, but noted that the decision is ultimately the Board of Elections’ to make.

In other business, the board accepted a quote for the transportation of voting equipment for the next election. The board voted to accept a quote from the West Milton Rotary, rather than a $1,000 lower bid from a company in Vandalia, in order to support a local organization.

“That money goes back into the county, into scholarships and things like that,” Long said.

By Cecilia Fox

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