(TNS) — Indiana’s St. Joseph County Council unanimously decided Tuesday to budget $3 million for new voting machines across the county’s 146 polling locations.
The decision to budget the money came after the county election board, which administers elections, told the council that software updates are no longer available for the current M100 machines, which are more than 15 years old and have been increasingly plagued by maintenance issues.
The county board of commissioners is expected to consider approving a contract this spring for the machines with the county’s election vendor, Chicago-based RBM Consulting. The vendor is a dealer for California-based Unisyn Voting Solutions, which manufactures the voting equipment.
To cover most of the equipment cost, officials plan to tap the county’s local income tax fund, which had a balance of $8.2 million at the end of 2018. The purchase plan also calls for using $264,000 in leftover federal grant money earmarked for election equipment, along with $236,000 that was budgeted for the maintenance of old machines but will no longer be needed for that.
The council OK’d the $3 million as part of a bill that included several financial items. Before the vote, there was no discussion about the machines among council members. Several of them had already indicated their support last month at a committee meeting.
County Clerk Rita Glenn, a member of the election board, said she was “ecstatic” about the council’s decision.
“We’re going to make sure the process for voting is seamless, so that there are no questions from the public when we process votes,” she said.
The plan calls for buying touch screen voting tablets for 678 voting booths countywide, eliminating the need for printed ballots that required people to use the pen-and-paper voting method.
Using the new technology, voters would print ballots with their selections. Those ballots would be fed into optical scan readers to tabulate them. The plan is to buy scan readers for each of the county’s 146 polling locations.
Some voters will already be familiar with the machines. That is because 15 touch screen tablets were used by walk-in absentee voters for the general election last fall. Bought for $175,000 with leftover federal grant money, the tablets and related equipment were used at the County-City Building in South Bend and County Services Building in Mishawaka.
In other business on Tuesday, the council approved the following matters:
• In a 6-2 vote, the council decided to override a veto by the county Board of Commissioners and approved a request by the county voter registration office to hire two full-time and two part-time deputy clerks to keep up with election work.
• Raises totaling a combined $47,000 were approved for five employees from the office of Penn Township Mike Castellon, but his request to hire two employees was denied. And in a separate proposal, raises totaling a combined $225,000 were approved for 25 employees from the office of County Assessor Rosemary Mandrici, along with $400,000 for a new assessment software system.
©2019 the South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Ind.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.