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Crawford clerk asks county to purchase new voting system

Crawford clerk asks county to purchase new voting system
Crawford clerk asks county to purchase new voting system
RBM Voting representatives give demonstrations to both the county commissioners and council at their Sept. 14 meetings, showing how the voting equipment their company sells works. Photo by Stephanie Taylor Ferriell
By Stephanie Taylor Ferriell, Senior Staff Writer, [email protected]

The last time the county purchased voting equipment, it wasn’t exactly state of the art. Shortly after taking office, circuit court clerk Lisa Holzbog told the county commissioners and council the equipment wouldn’t last long.

Having recently learned that the current equipment is so outdated the vendor no longer supports it, Holzbog said the county must act before next year’s election.

“It’s not something that can wait any longer,” she told the council and commissioners at their Sept. 14 meetings.

The current equipment was purchased about six years ago. However, it was used, not new, and is actually more than 25 years old.

“It was a quick fix,” said Holzbog.

The county spent about $80,000 on that purchase.

At their September meetings, officials heard a presentation by RBM Voting representatives. Holzbog said after examining different systems, she and her staff believe this one is the best fit for Crawford County. RBM focuses on smaller counties, including nearby Jackson, Floyd, Brown and Posey.

The RBM system is far more advanced and offers a higher level of security than the current equipment, representatives said. It offers the capability for voters to utilize an electronic touchscreen. Upon completion, the voter prints the ballot which is then fed into the tabulation machine.

Paper ballots can be printed and handed out to those voters not comfortable utilizing the touchscreen.

Dawn Wright, who works in the clerk’s office, said that would be a significant cost savings to the county. The county is required to print ballots for all registered voters. However, the majority don’t vote.

“We’re throwing away 70% of the ballots,” said Wright, noting the cost was even higher last year when a mistake was made and ballots had to be reprinted.

Paper ballots cost 39 cents apiece last year. RBM’s cost is about 21 cents per ballot.

The company’s system also handles early voting differently. Currently, ballots cast prior to Election Day are placed in an envelope and held securely until the day of the election, when they are tabulated.

RBM’s system allows the voter to take their ballot and put it in the machine themselves. Mail-in ballots can also be fed into the machine upon receipt. They are tabulated on election day.

The representatives said everything in the system is dated and time-stamped and can be easily tracked. Each machine has a thumb drive that’s removed at the end of election night and inserted into a laptop for tabulation. Each thumb drive matches a specific machine, providing additional security because it cannot be used in a machine in another county.

The RBM configuration makes it more difficult to manipulate the system because only the voter handles the ballot. It removes the potential for human error.

How much the system costs depends on whether the county chooses to keep multiple precincts or follow the current trend toward vote centers. That method involves designating several locations where voters can cast ballots. Voters may use any vote center in their county.

Representatives said maintaining the precincts would cost about $150,000 while the vote center option would run around $200,000. The clerk’s office noted there would be a cost savings because fewer poll workers would be needed, adding it’s getting more and more difficult to find enough workers for elections.

If the county chooses to utilize RBM, it would take about six months for the order to be filled.

“The day has arrived; it’s a have-to,” said Holzbog.

If the county chooses not to purchase a new voting system, it must upgrade the current machines.

Both the commissioners and council viewed demonstrations by RBM. They made no decision, taking the matter under advisement.