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Voting equipment fuels political spat

Commissioners last year approved a contract to lease the equipment for five years with a purchase option.

By JOHN MARTIN Courier & Press staff writer 464-7594 or jmartin@evansville.net
June 19, 2004

Vanderburgh County Commissioners are withholding money owed to the county's election equipment vendor, and County Clerk Marsha Abell said she doesn't understand why.

Catherine Fanello, the commissioners president, says she'll agree to pay Election Systems & Software, but first wants more information on how money to educate the public about new electronic voting machines was spent.

The machines were used for the first time in the May 4 primary. There were no major problems, according to election officials.

Abell said she has the information Fanello wants in her office. Fanello said that since the county's contract is with Election Systems & Software, she wants data from the company and an official has vowed to provide it.

Fanello, a Democrat who took office in 2000, is not running this year for a second term. Abell, a two-term Republican clerk, is running this year for the Vanderburgh County Council at-large. The two officeholders have tussled over various issues.

Commissioners last year approved a contract to lease the equipment for five years with a purchase option. The contract with Election Systems & Software is worth $2.95 million.

The county is being reimbursed for the equipment by the federal government. So far, the county has received about $500,000. Fanello said commissioners will release that money to Election Systems & Software when her questions are answered.

Fanello told county Election Board attorney Les Shively during Monday night's commissioners meeting that the election equipment company "promised a lot more than had been done" to educate voters about the machines. Fanello mentioned that public-service announcements about the equipment were not conducted.

Robb McGinnis, regional sales manager for Election Systems & Software, said the company is sending additional information to Fanello. But McGinnis said it's the local Election Board's role to decide how to spend dollars for voter outreach.

"It's really their plan how to put that together," McGinnis said. "... From what I was told, the outreach there went really well."

The county clerk's office and Election Board conducted demonstrations of the new equipment at fire stations, schools, churches, stores and other places before the primary election. Those demonstrations were promoted often by Evansville media outlets, Abell said.

The county had about $50,000 available for voter outreach and spent about $30,000, according to Abell. She said the remaining $20,000 will be used before the general election, when voter turnout is usually higher.

Abell said she has "every one" of the receipts on what has been spent so far on voter outreach, and Fanello is welcome to see them.

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