Blair picks paper ballots

e-Slate machines will be replaced after May primary

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Blair County leaders have settled on buying a paper-trail voting system for $894,307 to replace e-Slate ballot casting machines in use since 2006.

The county elections board and county commissioners board both voted Tuesday in favor of a system manufactured and sold by Election Systems and Software of Omaha, Neb.

Because of their decisions, county voters will use the e-Slate voting machines with dials for the last time in the May 21 primary.

Thereafter, the county elections department will begin training staff and educating voters on how to fill in ovals on paper ballots that are deposited into a computerized counting device capable of reading the ballot and keeping a tally of votes.

Each of the county’s 93 precincts will have one touchscreen voting system primarily for handicapped voters, but it can be used by other voters too, county elections Director Sarah Seymour said Tuesday.

Because of Tuesday’s decisions by the elections board and the county commissioners, the county will pay almost $122,000 more to buy the ES&S system than it would have paid, at $772,477, for paper-trail voting system available from Dominion Voting of Toronto.

But county leaders said Tuesday that their review of the pros and cons left them more supportive of the ES&S system.

“It’s a better one,” said Com­missioner Terry Tomassetti, who chairs the elections board with members Robert Scholl and Greg Michelone.

ES&S currently contracts with the William Penn Printing Co. in Pittsburgh for voter machine maintenance and repairs, a factor Scholl mentioned Tuesday during the elections board’s reconvened meeting.

“They’re only two hours away,” Scholl said. “In case we have a problem, we could get them here in a jiffy,” Scholl said.

The county will cover the cost of the voting system with money from its 2017 bond issue and with an anticipated $126,000 from the federal government. While some state leaders have suggested making money available to help counties cover costs of new voting machines, no specific amounts have been approved.

Seymour told county leaders Tuesday that she preferred the ES&S system over Dominion’s system, partly based on reviews of both systems by the county’s internet technology director and maintenance department that transports the voting systems to the precincts.

IT Director Don Weakland said he has some security concerns about the equipment to be used with the Dominion system but not the ES&S system.

Seymour also mentioned that Dominion introduced a metal cart for transporting its voting equipment, which prompted questions about storage and protection during transportation by the county highway crews. The ES&S voting systems won’t require a similar cart.

Tomassetti also pointed out that while the ES&S system’s purchase price is higher, ES&S’s annual cost of a license and extended warranty, at $63,905, fell below Dominion’s price at $74,650. That $10,745 difference works out to a savings, over four years of ownership, of about $44,000.

Commissioners praised Seymour for her work to study and evaluate the options. They also praised her for working with company representatives who demonstrated their products for county leaders and during an open house last year at the Blair County Convention Center.

Commissioner Ted Beam Jr. recalled that the people at the open house offered favorable remarks to the ES&S voting system.

“I think the process has been very thorough and I think we’re getting a really good system,” Beam said.

Commissioner Bruce Erb also commended Seymour and her department for efforts to have the voting system in place for November, a year before the 2020 presidential election when voter turnout is typically high.

Seymour and Rocky Greenland, who supervises the county highway department, are also working on a related effort with the introduction of a new voting system. To create a private booth where voters can mark their paper ballots, the maintenance staff has plans to remove the e-Slate voting machine’s dialing mechanism, then cover that area of the booth with a flat surface.

Seymour said the cost is about $15 to create the remodeled voting booths for continued use at the precincts.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.

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