Plans underway for 2016 election

GREENFIELD — The Hancock County Election Office is already prepping for the presidential election in 2016.

The Hancock County Clerk’s Office, which oversees the election office, is poised to purchase more than $65,000 worth of new ballot boxes and tabulation equipment for the county’s vote centers, pending Hancock County Council approval.

When the county began utilizing vote centers instead of precincts last year, the election office chose not to purchase new election equipment immediately, Clerk Marcia Moore said. But during this year’s municipal primary, several machines needed to be fixed on Election Day, prompting officials to re-evaluate the dated equipment.

“Our systems are getting old, they’re starting to fail,” she said. “We only had five vote centers open, and we still had to go out and fix them. … They’d just been serviced.”

Moore estimated that for during the 2016 presidential election, the county will utilize more than double the number of vote centers — probably 13 — to serve the number of voters who turn out. It’s imperative that election equipment is in good condition for the rush to the ballot box on Election Day, she said.

In 2012, the most recent presidential election, more than 33,000 votes were cast, a turnout of 64 percent.

The new equipment will cost about $66,000. Moore has about $5,000 earmarked in her budget to pay for the equipment and asked the commissioners to use about $22,000 from the county food and beverage fund, which is made up of money collected from county restaurants that serve food or drinks. She also plans to use money borrowed by the county in 2013.

The Hancock County Board of Commissioners approved her request to purchase the equipment, pending approval by the Hancock County Council.

The new machines will be able to read extraneous marks on ballots, which can’t be deciphered with the current machines, Moore said.

Now, when voters don’t follow the directions on the ballot and use other marks to indicate their selections, a team of election workers has to remake the ballot or have the voter scrap the ballot and start over.

The new machines will read those marks, saving time and resources, Moore said.

Moore wants to purchase the machines now so they can be test-driven during November’s municipal election, which is expected to be far less hectic than next year’s primary or general election.

“This will give us a chance to really use it and know exactly how it works in the smaller municipal election before we go to next year’s presidential election, which is far more hairy,” she said.

Commissioner Brad Armstrong said Moore’s office works hard to keep an inventory of the election equipment and fully understands what needs to be replaced, which is why the commissioners approved her request.

“We value her input,” he said. “The last thing we want is to have breakdowns on election day.”

Presidential elections are usually well-attended, he said, and in Hancock County, they’re high-volume elections.

Working out the kinks associated with new machines before the big election is important, he said, which is why it’s important to buy them now.

Voter turnout for the municipal general election in 2011 was 24.5 percent, compared with 64 percent in 2012 and 69 percent in 2008, when President Barack Obama was elected for the first time.

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Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or squinn@greenfieldreporter.com.