It was no surprise. That was the expected news out of Monroe County’s election board meeting on Thursday afternoon. Hart Intercivic had indicated the delivery would come in early February.
The delivery of a semi-trailer-truck load worth of election equipment, and preliminary testing of the equipment was one of the major topics of discussion at the board’s meeting.
Another main topic was raised during public commentary by two members of the College Democrats at Indiana University Bloomington. They advocated for establishing the Indiana Memorial Union as a universal vote center, where voters from any precinct could cast a ballot.
Based on the recommendation of a seven-person committee, the three commissioners voted to direct their attorney, Jeff Cockerill, to initiate discussions on writing a contract to purchase the equipment from Hart.
Chair of Monroe County’s election board, Carolyn VandeWiele, responds to Charlotte Zietlow at the board’s Oct. 3, 2019 meeting. (Dave Askins/Beacon)
An optical scanner from ES&S. (Dave Askins/Beacon)
Hart Intercivic’s Lawrence Leach demonstrates his company’s equipment for Angie Purdie, who’s administrator for the board of county commissioners. (Dave Askins/Beacon)
The Bloomington city council’s most recent regular meeting fell on Nov. 6, the day after municipal elections were held in Bloomington for just two of six council districts.
Elections had been cancelled by the election board in the other four districts because races were uncontested there. None of the citywide races—mayor, clerk, or at-large city council seats—had more than one candidate on the ballot and no write-in candidates were registered.
A couple of councilmembers on Wednesday mentioned vote centers, as opposed to precinct polling stations, as something that should have been tried, so that elections could have been held everywhere, without incurring too much additional expense.
Asked by The Beacon on Friday, the election board chair, Carolyn VandeWiele, said that completing the statutory process for establishing vote centers for this year’s municipal election, even starting in July, would not have been feasible. It’s also probably not practicable for 2020, she said.
Of more immediate concern is the acquisition of new voting equipment.
Responding to a question about the timetable for selecting a vendor for the county’s new election equipment, VandeWiele said on Friday the committee making the selection was behind the optimal schedule outlined in the county’s request for proposals (RFP). The timetable in the RFP foresaw a vote on the recommended vendor by the county commissioners by their Nov. 6 regular meeting.
The committee is still waiting for answers to questions that it has asked of the state’s election division and the vendors themselves. VandeWiel also said the committee is checking references for the two vendors. The next meeting of the vendor selection committee is scheduled for Nov. 18, she said.
Monroe County councilor, Trent Deckard, at the council’s Oct. 22, 2019 work session. (Dave Askins/Beacon)
Monroe County attorney, Jeff Cockerill, opens RFP submissions for election equipment at the county board of commissioners meeting on Oct. 23, 2019 (Dave Askins/Beacon)
At Monroe County council’s meeting on Tuesday night, councilors approved issuance of general obligation bonds for $3.3 million. Not on a revised bond project list was new election equipment that is estimated to cost around $1 million. [Note: The Beacon intends to provide separate coverage of Tuesday’s decision on bond issuance.]
The bond had originally been proposed for $5.17 million. Even though it had been crossed off the bond project list, the county still intends to get the equipment, and pay for it out of cash reserves.
Councilors included some commentary on the election equipment, when they deliberated on the bond issuance. Eric Spoonmore looked for some assurance that the $1 million that had been estimated was realistic.
Spoonmore’s question came as the county was concluding an RFP process to purchase or lease new election equipment, ahead of the May 5, 2020 primaries. By the Oct. 22 deadline, two proposals were received, from Hart Intercivic, out of Austin, Texas; Election Systems & Software (ES&S), out of Omaha, Nebraska.
County attorney Jeff Cockerill told Spoonmore that some research by the clerk’s office and the fact that they had at least two competing proposals led him to think it was unlikely the $1 million estimate would be exceeded.
At a joint work session held Friday afternoon by Monroe County commissioners and councilors, the elected officials got a rundown of itemized cost estimates for projects to be funded with a $5-million general obligation (GO) bond.
The gathering grew out of some frustration on the part of councilors, expressed on Sept. 10, when the three-member board of commissioners first presented the proposed $5.17 million bond issuance to the council. On that occasion, councilors wanted to see the kind of detail they eventually got, on Friday.
County attorney Margie Rice told the group on Friday that she sensed some dissatisfaction from councilors with the earlier presentation—that’s why the extra session on Friday was convened. Rice told the councilors she’d never before seen this level of detail given to a county council for a bond issuance.
The detailed breakdown allowed the council to identify several items, adding up to $559,080, that they wanted to pull out of the bond proposal, and pay instead out of cash reserves or other funds. To be pulled off the list of bond projects were: renovating the Alexander Monument ($153,000); running fiber to the data center ($100,000); paving of a seating area on the courthouse grounds ($60,000); installing HVAC fans for the justice center ($50,000); and sealing the parking garage deck ($50,000), among other items.
Not a surprise was the idea of paying for the Alexander Monument using a source other than the bonds. Councilor Marty Hawk had advocated for that on Sept. 10, when she said that the county had enough cash to pay for the restoration of the veterans memorial. Hawk also objected at that time to the amount of the bond, which was $5.17 million. It was a change to state law that allows the county to bond for $5 million, plus a growth quotient, instead of just the $2 million worth of GO bonds the county has issued in years past.
Based on the discussion on Friday, the county council will be weighing whether to go ahead and bond for the roughly $5 million, or to ratchet the amount down to $3 million. Bonding for $3 million, according to the board of commissioners administrator Angie Purdie, would not increase tax rates. Bonding for $5 million would mean an extra $27.66 in property taxes paid by the owner of a house with a value of $200,000.
Among the items that’s still proposed to be paid out of the GO bond is election equipment costing around $1 million. County attorney Jeff Cockerill announced to the group on Friday that an RFP (request for proposals) would be made for the election equipment. Prospective vendors will be asked to appear in Monroe County on Oct. 14 at 2 p.m. to demonstrate their wares, Cockerill said. That comes after Monroe County’s election board appeared to have already recommended a choice of vendor, Hart Intercivic.