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Floyd County Election Board eyes new machines ahead of midterms

Instead of placing a ballot into a bin for poll workers to sort, Floyd County voters will feed...
Instead of placing a ballot into a bin for poll workers to sort, Floyd County voters will feed a receipt into a machine for tabulation if the 156 new voting machines requested are purchased.
Updated: Jun. 15, 2021 at 8:13 AM EDT
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FLOYD COUNTY, Ind. (News and Tribune) - Instead of placing a ballot into a bin for poll workers to sort, Floyd County voters will feed a receipt into a machine for tabulation if the 156 new voting machines requested are purchased.

The Floyd County Election Board unanimously accepted a proposal to replace its decade-old machines ahead of next year’s midterm elections. The machines are expected to make the election process smoother for voters while streamlining the counting of early absentee votes.

“The Floyd County Election Board has determined the machines are needed to conduct an efficient election,” said Rick Fox, the Republican representative on the election board.

The board consists of a Republican (Fox), a Democrat (Shane Gibson), and the county clerk, Danita Burks.

Floyd County voters have placed their printed ballots into envelopes and dropped them into bins in recent elections. If the new equipment is purchased, voters will instead scan a ballot receipt directly into a machine for counting, eliminating a third party from opening and feeding the paperwork into the system.

A change in state law after last November’s election will allow counties to process early absentee ballots. They will be tabulated but not tallied before election day.

Previously, those absentee votes had to be collected in envelopes and opened the day of the election. While that wasn’t a problem during normal years, the increase in absentee voting in 2020 due to the pandemic caused delays in tallying results throughout the state, including in Floyd County where officials counted votes into the early morning hours after polls closed on election day.

Mail-in ballots would still have to be counted manually, but overall, election officials said the change in law coupled with the new machines would provide for a better process for voters and poll workers.

“These machines that they’re making now are just more proficient and more accurate,” Burks said.

Once the machines are purchased, the election board intends to host a public demonstration so voters can view the new equipment and understand how the technology works.

“It’s a big undertaking because you’re dealing with the public vote. It’s important for them to have that assurance that it’s secure,” Burks said.

A voter would check-in at the polling location, receive a barcode through a poll book, vote on-screen and then received a printed ballot receipt to feed into the tabulation system with the new technology.

The board holds the authority of determining how elections will be conducted, and the county is responsible for funding the bulk of election expenses including paying for machines.

In this case, the ask is for $489,000. Floyd County Council members acknowledged during a meeting last week that the amount would have to be covered, but they tabled the issue pending review of whether it can be footed through American Recovery Plan money.

After several minutes of discussion, the consensus was that the federal funding can likely cover the expense, but the issue needs to be researched further before committing any money to the expense.

Councilman Dale Bagshaw attended an informative session on the equipment, and said he likes the technology because it helps eliminate the possibility of human error.

Bagshaw was the only council member who voted against tabling the appropriation. He said the county will ultimately have to pay the expense regardless of which fund the appropriation comes from, and delaying the vote restricts the amount of time officials will have to prepare for using the new system.

“I think it’s a time-sensitive issue,” Bagshaw said.

Midterm elections will take place next year beginning with primary races in May. Fox said the board wants to have the machines by December to begin training election officials ahead of the primary.

The machines would be purchased through RBM Consulting, and a representative of the company told council members that multiple Indiana counties are in the process of either leasing or purchasing the same equipment.

The price tag includes warranties, training and installation expenses. The machines could also save some expenses, as the county spends about $8,000 just on envelopes for ballots during election years.

“I think it’s going to be simple for our staff to catch on, and then in turn we can teach the public and our poll workers,” Burks said.