Anoka County getting new election equipment

The Anoka County Board has awarded a contract for new election equipment that will be in place in time for the 2013 election Nov. 5.

Cindy Reichert, Anoka County elections manager
Cindy Reichert, Anoka County elections manager

The new equipment plus election services from Election Systems & Software will cost up to $1,530,251.30 and replace the existing equipment, which is obsolete.

A 10-year joint powers agreement was approved last year by the county, school districts and cities in the county that spells out a cost-sharing formula to pay for the new equipment, its maintenance and operations.

According to Cindy Reichert, Anoka County elections manager, the software associated with the new equipment will begin arriving the week of June 24.

But delivery of the 140 ballot counters that the county is purchasing under the contract won’t be delivered until August, Reichert said.

That’s enough for all the precincts in the county to have one ballot counter, plus 10 percent that will be available for back-up on election day if there is a failure of a precinct ballot counter, she said.

The system also comes with a central ballot counter, which will be able to count all the absentee ballots – there were 14,000 absentee ballots in 2012 – instead of having several machines doing the count as was the case in the past, according to Reichert.

The new ballot counters will also have a digital screen rather than an optical screen, Reichert said.

There will enough time for the equipment to be set up and training to be completed for election officials and judges prior to the November election, she said.

This is an off-year election with no primaries and only two city councils (Lino Lakes and Circle Pines), plus school boards and a city of Coon Rapids park bond referendum scheduled on the ballot in November, Reichert said.

“I am not aware of any school levy referendums this year,” she said.

Voters at the polls won’t see any changes in the way they cast their ballots, according to Reichert.

They will still receive paper ballots from the election judges to mark and deposit in the ballot counter, Reichert said.

But they will see a larger, 12-inch display screen on the ballot counter, giving information and instructions in the case of an error, that will be easier to read and understand than before, she said.

The county has been preparing for the replacement of election voting equipment for several years, but it and other counties have been delayed from procuring the equipment by hold-ups in the required federal certification of the new equipment available on the market, Reichert said.

Hennepin County issued a request for proposals in February, but it was structured in a way that required the successful company to allow other Minnesota governmental units to independently negotiate agreements with the same terms and conditions, prices and payment terms offered to Hennepin County, according to Reichert.

Three vendors submitted proposals, and both Hennepin and Anoka counties have been working with the apparent successful vendor, Election Systems & Software, to negotiate agreements tailored to the needs of each county, Reichert said.

Indeed, the cost estimate that county elections staff prepared during the joint powers agreement process last year proved quite accurate, she said.

“Since our last equipment purchase, changes in election law, technology and certification standards have affected not only the technology we use, but the business model of the system vendors,” Reichert wrote in a report to the county board.

In addition to the software and equipment, the contract with Election Systems & Software also includes an agreement for it to provide maintenance services on the ballot counters and ballot markers.

“We do not have the capacity to perform our own system component maintenance,” Reichert said.

Under the terms of the contract, the county will use an Election Systems & Software certified printer to print the ballots, instead of going through a formal bidding process as it has in the past, and the vendor will provide the ballots at a fixed price.

In addition, Election Systems & Software will train county elections staff in equipment operations and software programming and will be involved in some of the training sessions for election judges.

The county is also getting a trade-in allowance from Election Systems & Software on its existing election equipment, Reichert said.

A federal grant of $310,000 was received for the election equipment process, Reichert said.

Through the joint powers agreement, the county is picking up 55 percent of the rest of the cost, the cities 30 percent and the school districts 15 percent, she said.

The amount cities and school districts pay is determined by their population in the county, Reichert said.

The joint powers agreement also makes the county the sole owner of the election equipment, not the piecemeal approach that was the practice before, she said.

According to Reichert, the contract approved by the county board is for five years.

At the end of the five-year contract term, the county will evaluate its needs, including whether the equipment needs to be replaced, Reichert said.

“But the voting equipment has an expected life (of) 10 to 15 years,” she said.

Training classes for city clerks and election workers will be in August.

In addition, state law requires that public demonstrations of the equipment take place for 60 days prior to the election.

These demonstrations will be available at the county elections office at the Anoka County Government Center as well as at the cities of Coon Rapids, Lino Lakes and Circle Pines.

“We will also work with our public information office to develop a public education process for the 2013 local elections and again in advance of the statewide elections in August and November of 2014,” Reichert told the county board.

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]