Sunday, August 27, 2006

Star Figures Out ES&S Deal Wasn't What It At First Appeared

AI reacted with disappointment when Secretary of State Todd Rokita first announced his settlement with Election Systems & Software for their faulty delivery of automated voting systems to 17 counties in Indiana, which included no fines or findings of wrongdoing. Today, the Star's "Behind Closed Doors" columns is rethinking the settlement:

At first blush, Secretary of State Todd Rokita's settlement this past week with Election Systems & Software sounds sizable.

Rokita launched an investigation into the Nebraska voting equipment company after counties complained about difficulties with the firm's voting machines during the May primary. To resolve the case, the firm pledged more than $700,000 in donations, materials and technical support to the state.

A closer look, however, makes the settlement seem somewhat less impressive. In reality, direct cash donations by the company to the state total about $245,000.

The larger dollar figure includes posters, handouts and training videos for poll workers that ES&S valued at $100 to $150 a pop.

Marion County alone is slated to receive 400 training videos that the company estimated are worth $60,000. Twenty-six other counties use ES&S equipment and will get the videos, too. When asked why the training videos cost so much, John Groh, senior vice president of ES&S, said it is expensive to produce videos meant for such a specific purpose. One of the complaints during the May primary was that poll workers had few instructions on how to run the ES&S machines.

Marion County Clerk Doris Anne Sadler said she thinks the videos could help many counties. But not her own -- the county's public access channel already produces its own poll-worker training videos. Free of charge.

As AI pointed out earlier this week, the amount going to the counties was in the form of services and not cash grants, and we thought the costs attributed to those services was dubious. The Star's figure of $60,000 for 400 training videos, which Marion Co. Clerk Doris Ann Sadler says will not be helpful to her county since the county has already produced its own training video, is simply not credible. It's also hard to believe the company had not already built the cost of producing a training video in with the contract price for the original system; if not, it should have been included in the original contract price.

Next, we'll probably learn that the company is estimating the cost of the posters it's proving the counties at $100 a pop. Rokita should be ashamed of this deal. After promising to the come down hard on the company when he first filed a complaint against it, Rokita wound up doing little more than slapping the company on the hand. Do our elected officials in Indiana not know how to negotiate on behalf of the interests of the taxpayers they serve?

It's disappointing that the Star didn't follow up with this item in a news story rather than the paper's weekly political gossip column. Its readers deserved a better analysis of the settlement agreement than it got from the Star's news pages.

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