After two years of working on securing new voting machines for Crawford County voters, the county election board is now ready to have the commissioners approve the expenditure.
The state has mandated that all counties have voting machines which have a paper trail — meaning paper ballots are included. That means the machines now used are no longer allowed and are becoming obsolete.
Headed by Chief Clerk Gina Chatfield and the Office of Voter Services, the hunt for a new system has been ongoing for several years.
Chatfield said one thing she and the board wanted was to have machines in place for the 2019 elections so voters would be familiar with them in time for the 2020 presidential election when voter turnout traditionally is higher.
The board selected Dominion Voting over two others — Unisyn and ES&S, the manufacturer of the machines currently being used.
The machines will be leased at an annual cost of $201,447.88 for the first year. That also includes a managed services agreement that allows the county to receive any software or hardware upgrades during the eight-year period.
Chatfield and Rebecca Little, director of the Crawford County Office of Voter Services, presented the options to the county election board at an informational session Thursday. Members were also given information as the process continued but had to give a nod of approval before the commissioners act.
Under the county code, the election board approves the contract and commissioners must approve the payment. Since the election board is comprised of the three county commissioners, including incumbents Francis Weiderspahn Jr. and Chris Soff who are expected to be on the 2019 ballot, they had to appoint members to serve in their place. Appointed were Christine Krzysiak and LeRoy Stearns.
Under the new system, when a person goes to register that day, he or she will be given a colored folder. The voter then proceeds to the voting machine, which will be on a table. The machine is about the size of a laptop computer or printer and has an attached printer. The election worker will insert a device to bring up the ballot (similar to the current personal electronic ballot), and voters then will mark the ballot and push a button to print it.
Another new feature is the voter can enlarge the ballot on the screen for a better view. It will automatically return to the original size after that voter is done.
The voter then will place the ballot in the folder and proceed to a scanner. The folder is used to protect the ballot from being damaged or from anyone being able to see it. The voter then will take the ballot out of the folder, insert it in the scanner where it will be scanned and the voter then leaves the empty folder and leaves.
After the ballot is scanned, it automatically drops into a locked box under the scanner. That ballot box is taken to the courthouse.
Should a voter leave without scanning the ballot, he or she cannot return to do it later. Once the voter leaves the voting place, the ballot can't be returned. That means the voter loses his or her vote.
The scanner tabulates the results as voting is done, but every 15 minutes or so, the figures are "scrambled," meaning they are mixed up so no one can identify which voter cast which vote.
Chatfield told the board that she programs the machine — just as she does now. Other counties pay company representatives to do that work. She said that is often when people are accused of "hacking" the system.
By Chatfield doing that work, it not only saves the county money, it protects the system as there is a chain of custody, meaning it is documented who has had access to the machine. Philip Baraynai is the backup person should Chatfield not be available.
The scanner also will tabulate the absentee ballots at the end of the voting day. Election workers will open the ballots like they do now and then one worker will feed the ballots into the scanner.
Commissioner John Amato said until he was commissioner he didn't realize how much time is spent preparing for elections — including the programming of the machines. The new machines will cut that time in half, he said.
Stearns noted that the county will save money as well by not having to pay extra for salaries when tabulating by hand, such as is done now with the absentee ballots.
The county will pick up the tab for the machines but may receive some reimbursement from the state. Although the original figure from the federal government to the state indicated the county will receive about $84,000, that is unclear.
Chatfield said the county has been assured that it will be reimbursed for the cost even if the equipment is contracted before the new budget is adopted.