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MAHONING COUNTY Officials OK purchase of new voting system



Published: Fri, February 22, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Youngstown, Struthers and Campbell will be the first to use the new equipment.

By BOB JACKSON

VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- After five years of planning and two rounds of bidding, the Mahoning County Board of Elections is getting a new electronic voting system.

County commissioners approved purchase of the system Thursday from Election Systems and Software of Omaha, Neb., for $2.9 million, which will be paid with a 10-year loan.

"This is something that has been near and dear to my heart for the past five years or so," said Mark Munroe, elections board chairman.

He said that's how long ago the board realized it needed a new voting system. The panel accepted bids for new equipment then, but couldn't make a move because the county was in a financial crisis, Munroe said.

While the election board waited for county finances to stabilize, it "got its own house in order" by reducing staff and by decreasing the number of voting precincts in the county, all aimed at saving money, Munroe said.

The board again sought bids two years ago, and settled on ES & amp;S, Munroe said.

Right time: Commissioners David Ludt and Ed Reese said the time is right to move on a new system. Auditor George Tablack said "hardball negotiations" resulted in nearly $1 million in savings on equipment and services.

"It took a lot of cooperation by all the parties," Tablack said. "The vendor made some major concessions."

Among them were a two-year warranty, instead of one year, at no additional cost.

Tablack was originally opposed to such a large expenditure, but said he's changed his mind. If the county waits even six more months, he expects interest rates on municipal bonds to go up and "it would cost us more to borrow the same amount of money."

Munroe said the county's old voting system "broke" two years ago and is unusable. The county has rented equipment from ES & amp;S for the past two years, but county Administrator Gary Kubic said that's not a good situation to be in.

He said the company could demand more money each year the county leases from it, and there's no guarantee that the vendor would continue providing the services.

"It's a matter of control," Kubic said. "We will own this equipment and the costs are locked in."

Improvements: The new system will use computerized, touch-screen voting machines instead of the old paper ballots and pencils, said board Director Michael V. Sciortino. The machines are expected to be in place in Youngstown, Struthers and Campbell for the May primary election, Sciortino said.

The rest of the county should be using the machines in the November general election.

Munroe said the machines will allow more efficient vote counting and should eliminate over-voting, which is when voters cast too many votes in a particular race. Over-voted ballots are removed and not counted in the affected race.

"I think that's a tragedy that this technology can correct," Munroe said.

Sciortino said the board will no longer incur the cost of having paper ballots printed for elections. That savings, coupled with the other cost-cutting measures already implemented, should help pay for the equipment.

bjackson@vindy.com




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