Ballots by the elections board should be counted faster with new machines

By David Skolnick


Votes will be counted faster at the Mahoning County Board of Elections thanks to the $258,500 lease-to-purchase of two high-speed optical-scanner machines, according to the board director.

The current machines have issues with paper jams and automatically stop counting ballots when they find ones with write-in candidates’ names or if ballots have votes for two candidates for one position, said Director Joyce Kale-Pesta.

Those ballots must be removed by hand for additional ballots to be counted by three older optical- scanners at the board. That has caused delays in counting votes.

The new machines move the write-ins and the double-vote ballots to a location on the scanners while counting other paper votes without stopping.

“Counting on election night will be faster because it won’t stop like the machines do now,” Kale-Pesta said.

The machines are expected by the May primary.

That will allow the board to use the machines for two lower-turnout elections, this year’s primary and the November general elections, before the 2014 election in which turnout likely is to be greater, Kale-Pesta said.

The $258,500 cost will be paid over the next five years to ES&S. That Omaha, Neb., company has sold the county its voting equipment for several years, including paper ballots in the 1990s, electronic-voting machines in 2001, and back to paper a couple of years ago.

After the five-year lease, the equipment will be owned by the board of elections, Kale-Pesta said. The new machines should last about 10 years, she said.

The machines cost $111,500 each. There also are costs for installation, training and warranties. The board is receiving a $24,000 credit for the two older machines — about 8 to 10 years old each — it owns. The board leased a third scanner last year from ES&S that it will return to the company.

The four-member board unanimously voted Tuesday to pay for the new machines over a five-year period at a cost of $51,700 annually.

Also Tuesday, the board approved a $24,000 payment to Election Data Services of Manassas, Va., to help with a potential reduction of the county’s 273 voting precincts. The company provides software that details the number of people on specific streets.

Board members and officials haven’t decided how many precincts to cut, but suggestions have ranged from 50 to 90 precincts by November.

A key aspect of reducing voting precincts is Youngstown’s moving ahead with the redistricting of its seven wards so that each has close to the same number of residents. A vaguely written charter amendment about redistricting was approved by voters last year. Some council members are interested in changing the ward boundaries this year in time for the November general election.

Most of the precincts likely to be consolidated in the county are in Youngstown, Struthers and Campbell, Kale-Pesta said last month.

The elections board on Tuesday also certified the petitions for a citizen-organized proposed charter amendment for Youngstown to ban fracking in the city.

The city law director and some members of city council say the proposal, if approved, is unenforceable because the state controls fracking in Ohio. Members of Frack Free Mahoning Valley, the group that organized the petition drive, disagree, saying the charter amendment gets around state control.

The group needed 1,562 valid signatures to get on the May ballot.

It submitted petitions with 3,792 signatures. Of that amount, 2,799 were deemed by the board to be valid signatures.

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