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County streamlining election process
Changes will include consolidating voting sites
new_deh_county commission voting pic.jpg
TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO A Barton County election worker and a voter utilize one of the electronic poll pads during a past election. The County Commission approved the purchase of another pad Monday for use in the Nov. 6 general election.

 The approval for Barton County Election Officer Donna Zimmerman to purchase on an additional electronic poll pad was a simple step is streamlining the voting process in the county. However, other steps along this path, including the consolidation of voting locations, may not be as easy, Zimmerman told the County Commission Monday morning.

Commissioners approved buying one KnowInk Poll Pads at a cost of $1,430. It joins a fleet of 16 other pads purchased in the spring of 2016 at a cost of $25,000 and first deployed for the August primary that year.

“We’ve been using these for several elections now and we really like them,” Zimmerman said. Use of the pads decreases staff time and supply costs, while improving the check-in process at polling places.

Zimmerman said all voters have to do is place their drivers license in a cradle. The machine will scan the bar code and register the name.

If a voter doesn’t have a drivers license, their name can be entered into the iPad and called up that way, Zimmerman said. Other forms of acceptable identification include passports, valid college ID cards and valid governmental employee ID cards, but none of these can be scanned.

The new device will allow Zimmerman and her office to covert all polling stations to the pads. It will also allow them to have two as a backup should that be necessary.

She did say they will have paper rosters ready to be printed if all else fails.

The system consists of iPads which take the place of paper poll books and related equipment. These are not to be confused with electronic voting machines and have nothing to do with casting ballots.

More changes in store

The increase efficiencies provided by the pads comes at a good time, Zimmerman said. The office will consolidate election boards and voting locations ahead of the Nov. 6 general election.

Currently, there are 21 boards overseeing polling at 23 sites countywide. That will be reduced to nine boards and 11 locations.

“It’s going to be hard in rural areas,” she said. “We don’t want to make it difficult for you to vote.”

She will send letters to rural voters explaining the changes. She will included an application for an advance ballot and instructions on advance voting at the courthouse.

In Great Bend, there will be only four polling stations – the Recreation Commission Activity Center, the Great Front Door, Prince of Peace Parish Center and Grace Community Church.

“That’s a difficult thing to do,” Zimmerman said of cutting voting locations. But, with the difficulty in finding volunteer poll workers and costs associated with elections, this is a necessary move.

Come next year, the county be looking at replacing its aging electronic voting equipment. The Barton County Election Office put its 89 iVotronics machines (which cost about $2,500 each for a total of about $300,000) into service in 2006. 

However, there were Help America Vote Act Endowment funds at that time which covered 90 percent of the county’s costs. That federal money will not be available this time, she said.

Zimmerman said she has looked at other counties similar in size to Barton that have reduced voting locations. Some still have more, but many have fewer.

The upside to this is that polling locations will now remain constant from election to election.   

Once the consolidation takes place, there are no plans to reopen the additional voting sites at a later date.

As more details about the new polling stations will be announced as it becomes available, Zimmerman said.

Barton County Commission meeting at a glance

Here is a quick look at what the Barton County Commission did Monday morning:

• Approved the purchase of one more  KnowInk poll pad to speed yo voter check-ins during elections at the request of County Election Officer Donna Zimmerman.

• Approved the placement of stop signs at the intersection of SE 30  Avenue and SE 40 Road in South Bend Township, about five miles southeast of Great Bend, and at the Intersection of NW 80 Avenue and NW 160 Road in Grant and Albion townships, about 13 miles north of Olmitz.