SIDNEY – The Shelby County Board of Elections is exploring options to replace its electronic poll books, possibly in time for the November election.
Shelby County is the last county in Ohio to use VOTEC Corp. for its electronic poll books. The e-poll books contain a list of eligible voters and help election officials verify voters’ eligibility at polling locations.
Shelby County has had problems with service from VOTEC in the past, Chairman Jim Kerg said, and because it is the last county in Ohio using the vendor, the Board of Elections staff thinks it’s unlikely the service will improve.
“We’re at the front end of this project, and there’s a lot of homework to be done,” Kerg said during Monday’s monthly board meeting. “I realize that the staff would like to get this done and have it functional for the November regular election coming up. And, yes, that would certainly be ideal. It would make a great incubator, if you will, for trying the new equipment in a low volume election.”
Other Ohio counties use one of three vendors – KNOWiNK, Tenex, and Election Systems & Software. Because they’re established in the state, Deputy Director Collin Claywell recommended switching to one of those vendors.
The estimated cost to switch e-poll book vendors would be $55,000 to $70,000, Claywell said. VOTEC did provide a quote for a system upgrade, he said, but that wouldn’t include new software, which seems to be the root of the issues with VOTEC.
Before selecting a new vendor, board member Merrill Asher said he wants the Board of Elections staff to ask surrounding counties who use each of the three vendors for their impressions of the services, both good and bad.
Asher also said polling election officials, people who work at polling locations on Election Day, should be part of demonstrations presented by KNOWiNK, Tenex, and Election Systems & Software to ensure they’re comfortable with the equipment.
Claywell said he’s already started contacting other counties about their experiences and suggested a special meeting could be scheduled to have the vendors demonstrate their systems.
The staff would like to have a new e-poll book system operational by the November election, as the off-year election generally sees lower voter turnout. Thus, any issues could be addressed before future higher turnout elections.
“It seems to me this is a very pressed timeline,” Kerg said. “I’m not saying we couldn’t get an evaluation and testing and input done. It just seems like a tight time frame to do it.”
Kerg agreed finding a more reliable vendor should be a priority for the Board of Elections. He wants to ensure the board makes an informed decision and also is concerned about the cost.
The board would like to find grant funding that could pay for the new e-poll books, but Kerg, Claywell, Shelby County Commissioner Julie Ehemann and Kenneth Henning, regional liaison for Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, all said there’s been no indication from the state or federal governments that funding will be available anytime soon.
Director Pam Kerrigan said in the past grant funds have been available for voting machines but not e-poll books.
“We can’t afford to have the VOTEC equipment shut down in the middle of an election,” Kerg said. “And I don’t want it to happen period or we’re all responsible for not putting the right equipment in. On the other hand, we want to do it right and want to do it as cost efficiently as we possibly can.”
If there were to be an issue with the e-poll books during an election, each polling location has a hard copy of the voter logs that could be used. The hard copies would allow the election to continue but could cause slowdowns.
Along with information about the e-poll books, the Board of Elections hopes to have a business continuity plan policy ready for adoption by its August meeting.
Board member Jim Thompson is leading the effort to create the policy to address emergency preparedness and facilities continuity in the instance of disruption. It is mandatory as a result of the Ohio Secretary of State becoming a division of the United States Department of Homeland Security.
Also by the August meeting, the Board of Elections wants an update on its 2021 budget through the end of June. The board wants to review the budget at the midpoint of the year.
Asher is going to seek information about how planned sewer and drainage improvements at the fairgrounds this upcoming fall could affect the November election and report his findings during the August board meeting.
The staff gathered information potentially needed for audits of spending from the Help America Vote Act and Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act grants.
The federal government has asked Ohio Auditor of State Keith Faber to review spending by each Ohio county. Auditors will visit select counties, including Darke County, Henning said.
Following Monday’s meeting, Kerg and Thompson were to meet with Board of Elections staff for communications meetings during which they could address any concerns and make sure everyone understands the board’s objectives.
The plan is to host a communications meeting with each staff member three or four times a year. Previously, Asher and Doug Pence met with staff members for the first of three communications meetings this year.
The filing deadline for November’s election, which includes school board, city and village council and township trustee positions, is 4 p.m. Aug. 4.
The board’s next monthly meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. Aug. 16.
Reach the writer at [email protected] or 937-538-4824.