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Mercer Fiscal Court Okays Purchase Of New Election Equipment

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Robert Moore
Herald Staff

The Mercer County Fiscal Court approved a provider for election equipment, but not voting machines. At their meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 31, the fiscal court heard from County Clerk Chris Horn, who said county election officials have been tasked with finding a new provider for electronic poll books. Horn said the current contract is expiring and they will not be able to use the provider in the May primaries.

“Time is of the essence,” Horn said. He said the Mercer County Election Board felt KNOW iNK, a company out of St. Louis, Missouri, was “the best one out there,” citing the “security features” in their equipment. Horn said Knowink partners with Harp Enterprises of Lexington, which already works with Mercer County. The cost is $61,425 for one year, for two machines per precinct with one as a spare.

Horn introduced Ross Roberson, vice president at Harp. Roberson said Harp has been in business since 1972 and was founded by a Mercer County resident. Roberson said each machine will be reimbursed by the state. The county is only responsible for maintenance, service and internet service, which came out to $7,550 a year based on two elections. He said there is no charge for connectivity on off-years. He also noted Harp was available for service calls.

“We are servicing this project out of Lexington,” said Roberson, who noted other providers don’t have local customer service representatives.

Each machine comes with a waterproof case and has its own barcode printer, so when a person checks in, a receipt will be printed, which allows poll workers to check to see if voters are getting the right ballot and have not voted previously at another precinct.

Magistrate Stephen “Pete” Elliott, noting some precincts may have only 30 voters during an elections, questioned the need for two electronic poll book machines at each location. Roberson said two machines at each location provides backup if one goes down.

Mercer County Sheriff Ernie Kelty said, as a member of the election board, said it didn’t matter if it was just 30 voters or one voter.

“One of the most fundamental rights in this country is the right to vote,” Kelty said. “We have to do everything we can to make sure that one person can vote.”

Kelty said they have had to call Harp in the past to service machines in the middle of an election.

“They were Johnny on the spot,” Kelty said.

Magistrate Dennis Holiday moved to purchase the polling equipment and pay costs, with a second from Magistrate Susan Barrington. The motion passed unanimously.

Roberson also brought in voting machines for the magistrates, noting the commonwealth has mandated they have to move to paper-based machines by 2027. Roberson said the new scanners are small and wheelchair accessible. The machines can pick up marginal marks and gives voters a second chance to clarify their votes.

Voters will also be notified if they have not completed the ballot. At a time when election security is a public concern, Roberson noted the machines feature more robust security. Each unit uses an encrypted proprietary drive to protect against malware. The fiscal court will have to bid it out. They didn’t take any further action.

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