Commissioners updated on voting equipment funding

By Melanie Speicher -

SIDNEY — The Shelby County commissioners were updated Tuesday about the funding from the state of Ohio for the purchase of equipment for the Shelby County Board of Elections.

Chairman Christopher Gibbs and Director Pam Kerrigan told the commissioners no directives have been received from the secretary of state’s office yet, but the County Commissioners Association of Ohio sent out an advisory bulletin discussing the voting equipment funding.

Gibbs said Senate Bill 135, which deals with the voting equipment funding, was approved by the Ohio House and Senate and signed into law by the governor.

“This bill is providing funding for counties to update their voting equipment,” said Gibbs.

He said the local board of elections will be able to purchase optical scanning machines, autoMARK for vision and hearing impaired voters, tabulating equipment and printers.

“It’s all a matter for timing,” said Gibbs. “They want everything in place by the 2020 presidential election. I think that would also include the primary in March 2020.”

Gibbs said the local board would like to have everything in place for the November 2019 election so ensure everything runs smoothly in 2020. Shelby County is eligible for $633,827.26 in funding.

The local board of elections, said Gibbs, has 44 tabulators/optical scanning machines. He said the board will want to update the autoMARK machines.

“The autoMARKs are getting long in the tooth,” said Gibbs. “This funding would support replacing it.”

Current elections equipment, said Gibbs was purchased in 2005 and 2006 with federal money with the Help America Vote Act.

“Once we get the directive from the secretary of state, we know we want to purchase a high speed scanner,” said Gibbs.”With absentee and early voting, we have a slew of ballots that have to be counted prior to 7:30 p.m. on election night.

“We have too much volume to do it in one night, so we hire people to open the ballots and run them through the scanner,” he said. “We’d like to purchase a high speed scanner so the ballots can be done at home time, possibly even on election day. Right now, we have to hold back six scanners to do absentee ballots.”

Gibbs said the secretary of state’s office will provide information to the local board of elections concerning the vendors with the equipment needed for the upgrades.

“The board will make the decision from the directive, which we don’t have yet,” said Gibbs. “Once we have it, we’ll come back to you with a recommendation.”

Gibbs said the commissioners purchased six tabulating machines after Jan. 1, 2014. The equipment was purchased in the calendar years of 2015, 2016 and 2017. He and Kerrigan are investigating why those purchases are not included in the legislation for reimbursement. The legislation allows reimbursement for equipment purchased between Jan. 1, 2014, and July 30, 2018.

“Unfortunately we’re not listed as one of the 14 counties eligible for reimbursement,” said Gibbs. “We’re going to do some research to see if we can be reimbursed for the purchase.”

The six machines, said Gibbs, cost the county $33,000.

“We were caught off guard that we weren’t on the list,” said Gibbs. “We don’t know if we missed a report (discussing the reimbursement).

Gibbs said the local board is committed to the continued use of paper ballots during elections. He said the voters trust the local board by knowing if something does go wrong, the paper ballots can be pulled out and counted one by one.

By Melanie Speicher

Reach the writer at 937-538-4822.

Reach the writer at 937-538-4822.