Commissioners to consider contract for election equipment

There’s just one step left before the county can move forward with its purchase of all new voting equipment.

The Johnson County Board of Commissioners is expected to sign two contracts on Monday — one for equipment and another for services — with MicroVote, the Indianapolis-based vendor. The county rented equipment and services from the company this year in the wake of firing its long-time vendor, Election Systems and Software, after a disastrous 2018 election.

The Johnson County Election Board recapped last week’s election and considered changes ahead of next year’s presidential elections, which are expected to produce massive turnouts, during a meeting on Tuesday.

The county is already making changes ahead of next year’s elections, including adding more vote centers. They had 19 for this year’s municipal elections. Clerk Trena McLaughlin wants to have at least 24 for the presidential elections, she said. She and first deputy clerk Reagan Higdon hope to have a confirmed list of vote centers by Dec. 1. They hope to include that list in residents’ tax bills for the first time, McLaughlin said.

Another focus — and concern — is how long it took election workers to count absentee ballots, which can’t be opened until Election Day, Election Board member Phil Barrow said.

“One thing that stands out in my mind is that, yes, Election Day was smooth, but the day was full,” Barrow said. “The paper ballots are working well. The only thing is we’ll probably have three-times as many.”

It took workers much of the day to count the 327 absentee ballots, he said.

McLaughlin said the county will have a second machine to count those ballots during the 2020 elections, and she is putting together two teams that will work on it for as long as they’re needed, starting about 8 a.m. on Election Days in May and November.

The commissioners have already approved buying the new equipment, and county and company officials spent the last couple months working out the specifics about what the agreement would include, and for how long.

Now, they just need to sign it.

The county will spend about $1.5 million on services and equipment, including 320 voting machines. The Infinity Voting Machine with VVPAT — Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail — is the newest system MicroVote has to offer, and was certified by the state in July. The contract between the county and the company will be for four years.

Election officials chose MicroVote due to the ease and size of its machines, its support staff, the county’s experience with the vendor during this year’s elections and the fact that the cost is a packaged deal with no add-ins, McLaughlin has said.

The equipment the county will buy from MicroVote is similar to what it used this year, except newer. The system that was used during this year’s municipal elections allowed poll workers and election officials to view a printable audit of each ballot cast. The new system, includes a Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail, will allow the voter to see that audit as well.

Through a state-funded program, the county will likely get reimbursed for the cost of 45 of the new machines, or 10 percent of the total purchase. The state has already purchased 1,000, including with the paper audit trail, and plans to distribute those to counties that currently use MicroVote, including Johnson County, company officials have said.

The company also agreed to give the county a $62,500 credit if election officials decided to buy all new equipment from the vendor before 2020.

Earlier this month, the Johnson County Council unanimously approved borrowing the money needed for new equipment. That money will be available Dec. 18.

As part of the agreement, MicroVote will also dispose of all of ES and S’s old equipment, including 481 iVoltronic voting machines, some of which no longer work, and 90 e-poll books that were not re-certified by the state after the November 2018 election.