Wadena county board members approved the purchase of new election equipment and set up a new committee to see the election process flow smoothly in the county Tuesday at their regular board meeting.
After speaking at length with county auditor/treasurer Judy Taves, the board approved the purchase of 12 DS200s and Election Ware software for the devices at a cost of $43,389 to the county. A $30,000 grant offsets the total cost of $64,770 for the equipment. The DS200s are digital scanning voting machines that use optical scanners designed to ensure "even the most poorly marked ballots are read accurately and consistently" according to the company website.
After further discussion on poll pads, devices that would replace the use of paper registration, commissioners also approved of the purchase of 15 poll pads to be used throughout the county.
Taves noted a reason for moving ahead with poll pads was to comply with a rule that others registering should not be able to see who else is on or not on the list. The electronic poll pads work in a way that you only see your information not others. While the pads can be connected to the internet, commissioners did not vote to go ahead with connecting these devices at this time as Wadena County IT director Curtis Kreklau said there was poor connectivity at some of the precincts and security of voting information was at question at these sites.
The 15 poll pads would cost $19,200. Of that amount the county would pay about $7,000 after Staples purchases one and a $10,911.32 grant is used. Fifteen pads is not enough for all locations, but it covers those with significant voter numbers. Taves said 47 counties are using the poll pads with several others planning to get on board in coming months.
Commissioner Bill Stearns voted to approve the purchase of 15 poll pads without connectivity. All commissioners were in favor but several made note that the information for the election requests was not included with the board agenda, so it was not able to be reviewed by board members or the public prior to the meeting when Taves handed out paper copies.
"I'm going to vote in favor, but I think that it needs to be on here (board agenda) so the public can see it," Commissioner Dave Hillukka said. He noted that they were expected to make a decision concerning budget funds without advance notice.
Commissioner Hofer also chimed in noting that the budget committee should have been able to hear the proposal first in order to properly vet the information and provide a recommendation to the county board.
Hofer, who sits on the budget committee said the costs of these expenses should be fully covered by the budget reserves and rollovers planned for such equipment.
Taves said it made sense to roll this out now to have people prepared for the three elections in 2020. With those elections and changes in technology in mind, commissioners approved setting up an election committee made up of county employees that could stay on top of the elections as a team. Taves said she appreciated the board's support in setting up the committee.