Published: Tuesday, May 23, 2006
Election problems fuel dispute
A voting machine vendor has 'serious payment problems with the county.'
YOUNGSTOWN Mahoning County Board of Elections officials say the failure to pay $601,000 to the county's voting machine vendor adversely impacted the May 2 primary.
Elections Director Thomas McCabe said the county commissioners failed to make the payment to Election Systems & Software, the county's election machine vendor.
County Administrator George Tablack said the election board didn't comply with state law to provide purchase orders for the work, and that's why the bills weren't paid.
"I don't want to pass the buck; I take full responsibility for the problems we had, but the lack of funding for the company is one reason we had trouble," McCabe said after a Monday elections board meeting. "It's no way to run elections. We had problems with our vendors because vendors didn't get their bills paid."
The board submitted purchase orders for a majority of these expenses, McCabe said. Tablack checked Monday with the county's central purchasing office and found no purchase orders related to the voting system going back two years except for one for $70,000 related to "voter tabulation."
"Someone else's crisis isn't our emergency," Tablack said. "Everyone needs to manage money properly. Violating budget laws is a chronic problem with the board of elections."
What's behind bills
The county owes $601,000 to ES&S for work the Omaha, Neb., company did to install paper audit trails to the touch-screen voting machines as well as bring them in compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, other upgrades, service agreements and technical support, McCabe said.
Some of the ES&S bills are two years old, he added.
"We have serious payment issues with the county, but we're working with the election director and board of elections to resolve these issues," said Amanda Brown, an ES&S spokeswoman. "We've been working with them for the past two years, and it's gotten to the point where we want to carry out our work with the county, but we want the payment that is owed to us."
Mahoning's election system cost $3.81 million with the county receiving $2.8 million in federal funds for it.
McCabe and Joyce Kale-Pesta, deputy director, said ES&S did a poor job of training county poll workers, including failing to attend two training sessions. That left election officials who weren't trained on the machines to teach poll workers to work them, Kale-Pesta said. There was an error in an ES&S manual on closing machines at the poll, McCabe said.
Some ES&S employees hired to train Mahoning poll workers "didn't have a clue about this system," McCabe said.
Also, the paper trail add-ons were supposed to be shipped at the end of December but didn't arrive until the middle of March, McCabe said.
Poll workers in about 32 precincts had trouble closing machines on election night, causing lengthy delays in compiling results.
"We believe the preparations for the primary went well," Brown said.
McCabe said he's tried for the past three months to meet with county commissioners to discuss this issue, but he keeps getting the brush-off. Tablack and Commissioner Anthony Traficanti said McCabe was told last week that a meeting would be held this week to discuss the ES&S situation.
"If he wants a meeting, he can have one," Traficanti said of McCabe. "It's not a fight to meet with us. But we are dealing with a lot of other issues."
McCabe said nothing was mentioned about meeting to resolve the ES&S problem in his conversation with Traficanti last week.
McCabe also said the county hasn't paid a $99,100 bill to Triad GSI of Xenia, Ohio, to provide a new voter registration system late last year. Again, Tablack said the elections board failed to provide a purchase order for the system.
The money for the system comes from state funding, so it wasn't included in the board's budget, something the county commissioners' office is aware of, McCabe explained.
Like many of Ohio's larger counties, Mahoning had a number of problems during the primary. Besides training issues and trouble closing the machines after voting ended, the other problems included:
Counting absentee ballots. The county's central voting system machine didn't recognize the software used on the optical scanners used to count absentee paper ballots. Also, some of the paper absentee ballots provided by Olfield Graphics in Austintown weren't cut correctly and several of them couldn't initially be read by the optical scanners, McCabe said. A process that typically takes two hours took five hours and 15 minutes, McCabe said.
A precinct in Sebring initially registered no votes because a poll worker there gave the elections board the wrong voting cartridge.
Votes in a Springfield precinct were counted twice on election night.
The addition of a paper audit trail made the machines larger. That forced the removal of a top to the machines, and the side coverings were open, making voting less secretive, Kale-Pesta said.
"We learned things; we'll make changes and be better in November," she said.