New voting machines coming

Friday, December 2, 2005

CHARLESTON -- Voting in Mississippi County will be pretty much the same as previous elections.

The county's commissioners accepted the bid from Election Systems and Software of Omaha, Neb., during their regular meeting Thursday for new voting machines to bring the county into compliance with the Help America Vote Act of 2002.

HAVA requires polls to offer handicapped-accessible voting machines and "second chance voting" machines which tell the voter if they have correctly filled out their ballot.

Voters do not have to use second chance voting but the county must provide the opportunity, according to County Clerk Junior DeLay.

Mississippi County has polls at Wyatt, Anniston, Bertrand and East Prairie in addition to the two in Charleston. As some of the county's six polling sites deal with a large volume of voters due to multiple precincts voting there, bids were requested for 12 machines, DeLay said.

Three bids were received by the county, all offering 12 handicapped-

accessible machines plus 12 second-chance voting machines.

The bid from ESS offered an additional option: 12 AutoMark voter assist terminals which meet both requirements. The AutoMark terminals do not tabulate votes like other handicapped-accessible machines offered in the bids, but mark regular ballots for handicapped voters.

The AutoMark terminals also bring the county into compliance with the second-chance voting requirement as both hand-marked ballots and ballots marked by AutoMark can be scanned by the terminal and checked.

To go with AutoMark terminals, the county also needs to upgrade its central tabulator, trading in the current machine for a new HAVA-compliant model.

"My recommendation is that route," DeLay said. "That way we're modifying our present system very little."

In addition to being a familiar system that will be easier for election judges to adjust to, this option was also less expensive, DeLay said. The net cost for the county after using its allocation of $85,050 from the state is $8,140. A potential deduction related to implementation time costs may lower the figure an additional $4,400, according to DeLay, leaving only $3,700 for the county to pick up.

Bids offering a dozen handicapped-accessible machines plus another 12 for second-chance voting would have left the county with a bill of around $35,000.

The balance can now be completely covered using funds from another election grant, DeLay said. "This other $15,000 can be spent any way on elections," he said.

DeLay said this additional grant money will also be used to purchase a covered trailer to protect the new voting terminals from the elements during transportation to the polls and back.

In other business Thursday:

* Geographic information system data updates are not being forwarded to the county clerk's office by the county assessor, according to DeLay.

The GIS displays a wide variety of county data graphically over an aerial photograph base map.

DeLay said County Assessor W.R. "Bill" Thompson did not want his office's GIS database to be connected with other GIS stations. The vendor, Midland GIS Solutions of Sunrise Beach, advised updated data from the assessor's office could be burned to a compact disc and given to the county clerk's office to update other GIS stations. "We've never got one of those," DeLay said.

Map printouts for East Prairie's E-911 from the two offices confirmed that the county's other GIS stations do not have the updates.

"All we want is for him to burn us a CD and keep us updated," Presiding Commissioner Jim Blumenberg said.

DeLay said he is going to send a letter to the assessor formally requesting a CD with updated data before seeking further action.

* Residents from the Marshall Subdivision located off Highway 62 between Charleston and Bertrand presented a petition to reopen a road connecting the subdivision with Highway 62.

Commissioners previously closed the road - without any objections - to address residents' concerns about vehicles coming off the highway into the subdivision at high speeds.

If the barrier barrels are moved, at least two speed bumps will need to be placed to discourage speeders, Blumenberg said.

Commissioners asked the resident concerned about speeders if a "children at play" sign was ever placed in the neighborhood. "Yeah, but it did not help at all," she replied.

"The kids are going to play on that blacktop," Commissioner Homer Oliver said.

"Kids don't pay attention," Blumenberg said.

The petitioners also asked if a gravel road in the subdivision could be paved.

The cost for blacktop is about 40 cents per square foot, Blumenberg advised, which the neighborhood should be able to afford "if everybody would chip in." He estimated it would cost each homeowner about $550 to pave their stretch of road.

The subdivision's residents also voiced concerns about the county's response time in clearing snow drifts last year and drainage.

"If it snows, we'll try to get out to you sooner," Oliver said.

As for drainage, there isn't much the county can do. "There is no place for the water to go," he said.

* The county's general revenue fund has $86,000 less that it did last year at this time, according to Blumenberg.

On the other hand, the county road and bridge fund has $116,900 more than last year despite fuel costs running around 15 percent over budget.

Blumenberg said there was about $125,000 for materials budgeted that was not used. Some of that money will be spent before the end of the year on road sealing oil, however.

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