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St. Charles County considers new bid for voting machines

St. Charles County considers new bid for voting machines

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With no elections scheduled this year in St. Charles County after the April 2 municipal election, Rich Chrismer thinks this is the right time to buy new voting equipment.

Chrismer, the county's elections director, recently recommended the County Council approve a $990,366 bid from Unisyn Voting Solutions Inc., one of two companies vying for the contract.

The council on Feb. 11 tabled a bill to authorize the purchase, but could vote on it during its next meeting Feb. 25.

Chrismer has been trying for more than a year to buy new equipment. The council voted 4-1 in February 2012 to authorize spending $1.2 million for 130 optical scan and 130 disability-capable voting machines from Henry M. Adkins & Son Inc. But County Executive Steve Ehlmann vetoed that bill because Adkins was the only bidder at that time, and the council later withdrew it.

The county finance department re-opened the bidding process and received two bids — the one from Unisyn and a bid of $854,400 from Election Systems & Software. Chrismer recommended accepting the higher bid from Unisyn on the basis of on-site demonstrations of both products.

"We had a good competitive bid from the standpoint everybody expected competition, and we saw that reflected in the price reduction," Finance Director Bob Schnur told the council.

Ehlmann said Thursday the council has a tough decision to make about purchasing the new equipment, but he would support its decision either way.

Council Chairman Terry Hollander, R-District 5, said the bill was tabled because council members didn't receive the contract in time for review before the meeting. But with more than one bid received this time, Hollander said he supports buying the new equipment.

"Waiting was a good thing for us," Hollander said Thursday. "Rather than this being some kind of legal thing, we decided to table it. My general feeling is it will pass. I will support it because this is an awful good deal. There might be somebody that might want us to wait another six months to save more money, but it won't work that way."

Hollander was referring to the $250,000 the county would save by accepting Unisyn's bid versus Adkins' original bid of $1.2 million. The rest of the savings comes from Chrismer being able to negotiate an extension of a $129,000 federal grant with the Missouri Secretary of State's office to help pay for the machines. That grant came from the Help America Vote Act of 2012, but will carry over to this year. Chrismer said he also secured a $50,000 voting systems grant from the state. Both grants need approval from the council, which could vote to do so during its next meeting.

"I feel reasonably assured they will vote for the grants," Chrismer said Thursday.

Chrismer said he hopes to have the equipment by June so he could start setting it up for the April 2014 elections. He said Unisyn agreed to buy the county's old machines and properly dispose of them.

The county has 254,000 registered voters and 121 voting precincts. If the new machines are purchased, voters next April would use an iPad to sign in at their polling place. Chrismer said this would keep people from having to stand in lines according to the first letter of their last name. He said voters would still fill in the ovals on paper ballots but would feed the ballots into machines equipped with lasers to count the votes, instead of the infrared lights now used.

"Voters in our county want paper ballots," Chrismer said.

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