The PD, 6/27/08:
Voting machine company questions pick of Cuyahoga board
Posted by Joe Guillen June 27, 2008 19:22PM
The CEO of a Texas-based voting machine company says he still wants to know why the Cuyahoga County Board Elections bypassed his equipment in favor of a system that will cost taxpayers an extra $5 million.
Hart InterCivic President and CEO Gregg Burt on Friday criticized the board's selection process, a week after the board voted to spend $13.4 million for scanners from another company. County commissioners still must approve the deal.
"I have yet to hear a logical reason why we weren't selected," Burt said. "The taxpayers deserve an answer for this."
The board voted 3-1 to deal with Election Systems & Software. Members cited a recommendation from Elections Director Jane Platten, who preferred ES&S because its equipment worked well during the March primary.
Burt said he believed Platten's decision was made before Hart's proposal was even evaluated. "She didn't look at us at all," he said.
Burt said he has written letters expressing his dismay to the county commissioners and has hired a lawyer to examine the selection process.
None of the four board members, during public sessions, doubted Hart's equipment could do the job in November.
According to board projections, the county would save $5.3 million over five years by picking Hart. ES&S would lease equipment for the fall and sell more modern ballot scanners to the county in 2009.
Burt said he is amazed Cuyahoga picked a significantly more expensive voting system.
Board of Elections Chairman Jeff Hastings seemed equally befuddled the night of the board's vote. "Clearly, as a public official, I'm looking for the lowest bid," he said then.
The board was to pick the company with the "lowest and best" proposal, according to evaluation criteria set by members.
Platten defended her recommendation on Friday. "We chose the best and most proven company to execute our voting system," she said. "Hart is unproven in Cuyahoga County."
Hamilton County has used Hart machines without complaint since 2006.
County commissioners, who control the board's budget, are in negotiations with ES&S to finalize the deal. Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones said ES&S' higher price was a concern.
But Commissioner Tim Hagan echoed Platten's recommendation: "You can't afford a shot in the dark in a presidential election," he said. "We know what we've got" with ES&S.
Besides a cost savings, Burt said there are other reasons to select Hart. The company offered certified digital ballot scanners while ES&S' equipment for November is less modern. Some Cuyahoga staff members recommended Hart to the board.
If the commissioners complete the deal with ES&S, the county will receive digital scanners next year, once they are certified for use in Ohio. But if ES&S' newer equipment isn't certified by then, the county would buy the company's less modern equipment and get a $1.4-million refund.
Burt said the uncertainty surrounding the ES&S equipment should have worked in his company's favor.
"It seems the Board of Elections is open to betting taxpayer dollars on the hope that a new uncertified product will soon become certified," he said.
Burt said Platten never visited any of Hart's customers, notably Hamilton County, which includes Cincinnati.
Platten said she talked with Hamilton's deputy elections director many times. Hart employees also spent two days with Cuyahoga's elections staff before the board's decision.
"We went through an exhaustive process," she said.