Two proposals received for Monroe County election equipment, cost hoped to be less than $1 million

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.

The sealed packages containing the responses from the two companies were given a public, ceremonial opening at the county’s board of commissioners meeting on Wednesday morning. The details of the proposals were not immediately read aloud or otherwise released. Cockerill, who wielded the package-opening knife, told The Beacon the event was not meant to be like a bid opening, where the amount of the bids are read aloud.

The RFP calls for a committee to review the proposals. The composition of the committee, according to the RFP, is supposed to include one county commissioner, a county councilor, the three members of the county’s election board, a representative from the League of Woman’s Voters, and a representative from the county’s legal department. The fact that the entire election board is a part of the committee should mean that the committee meetings will be noticed and open to the public under Indiana’s Open Door law.

The county council’s representative on the RFP review committee will be Trent Deckard. His selection was made by the council at their Tuesday work session. Asked if he was willing to serve in that capacity, after being nominated by Geoff McKim, Deckard said, “It’s always an honor to serve this council!”

Deckard has been active in commenting on the election equipment purchase whenever it’s come up as a topic. He draws on his experience as co-director of the Indiana Election Division from 2011 to 2015.

On Tuesday night, he said that he’d seen other counties get into a kind of “cost-savings trap” on election equipment, and cautioned against that approach. Deckard said that $1 million might seem like a lot of money. But on Election Day, he said, “You can’t buy any more hours in the day.”

And in the space of one day, it’s a challenge to move that many people through the election lines, Deckard said. “If you think about it, Election Day is essentially a business that opens twice a year, with temporary workers for 12 hours a day,” Deckard said—he’d challenge any private business to get that many people through the lines.

Deckard said it’s hard to know for certain what turnout will be like in 2020, but added, “Every indicator we have is that we have a very civically active community coming up here.”

The equipment acquisition timeline in the RFP is described as a “best estimate.” After possible interviews, the evaluation of the proposals is planned for Nov. 2. A decision by commissioners could be made at their regular meeting on Nov. 6.

By Jan. 2, 2020 it’s hoped that a work plan will be provided by the vendor, that includes a training schedule, onsite testing and vendor programing. In any case, the work plan is supposed to be in place no later than March 2. Monroe County wants the voting system to be delivered by Feb. 5, 2020.

The RFP states that the new equipment will be used in the 2020 Primary Election on May 5, 2020.

The two other vendors who demonstrated their equipment at an RFP open house held on Oct. 14 in the Nat U. Hill Room of the county courthouse—Unisyn Voting Systems  out of Vista, California and MicroVote General Corporation from Indianapolis—do not appear to have submitted proposals by the deadline.

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