County speeds up voting equipment upgrade

Chad Frey
Harvey County is using grant funds to upgrade vote tabulation and audit equipment.

Thanks to a grant, the Harvey County Clerk’s Office was able to take a bite — about 12 percent — out of a planned upgrade to voting equipment upgrades planned for 2021.

The Center of Tech and Civic Life awarded a grant of more than $67,629 to the Harvey County Clerk’s Office to use for elections. The county commission will be asked to consider a purchase of $45,475 — new ballot tabulation and auditing equipment — Oct. 6.

That purchase comes early, and removes the equipment purchase from capital improvement funds for the county clerk’s office.

“It means I can use private funds for that,” said Rick Piepho, Harvey County Clerk.

That means, he said, not using tax-supported funds. The grant was awarded by an organization funded by Facebook, a private company.

Piepho said all the grant funds will be used mostly for election equipment for tabulating results and signature verification. Last month, the commission approved an $18,000 expenditure to purchase equipment to scan and verify signatures on the envelopes containing mail ballots.

The current purchase is for ballot scanners to assist with vote tabulation — part of an overall equipment upgrade that when complete will cost about $364,000 when complete.

The plan was to purchase a new vote tabulation/counting system next year using capital improvment/outlay funds. Purchasing this portion of the overall system now allows the county to use grant funds.

“Either way, we are going to buy a new system, that is the plan, at least,” Piepho said.

The clerk’s office had planned on making the purchase in 2021, however the availability of the grant funding pushed that forward one year.

If approved, the purchase would leave about $3,680 in the grant fund — and Piepho has a plan for those funds.

“I have a few our iPads that are at their end of life after this election. I need to replace those after for the election,” Piepho said.

The iPads are used for voter check in and scanning of driver’s licenses.

The equipment purchase on the agenda for this week is part of the ClearCount Ballot system — which will not make big changes to the voting experience for voters, but will make the tabulation of results simpler for the clerk’s office.

“it is easier to see voter intent with this new system,” Piepho said. “It is part of an overall system. This is one portion of the system that we planned.”

The biggest change that voters will see when the full system is implemented will be the machines printing a full ballot that can be reviewed by the voter.The new system will not be in place or used for the upcoming general election in November.

“I am not going to use it for this election,” Peipho said. ”It could be made to be compatible with the equipment that I have, and the ballots we have created, but there is not enough time to learn a new system by the election. The key is to have it in here, in the building, by the end of the year. ... That is when the grant deadline is.“

In Kansas, the voter registration deadline for the upcoming election is Oct. 13, while the deadline to request a ballot by mail is Oct. 27. County election offices will begin mailing ballots to registered voters who request them on Oct. 14. A ballot drop box sent to the county by the Governor has been installed at Fire Station No. 3.