Havre Daily News
Hill County officials are still awaiting the arrival of 10 new voting machines, and county commissioners on Monday adopted new, consolidated polling stations.
Hill County Clerk and Recorder Diane Mellem, who serves as the county's election administrator, said she was told she would receive the equipment by April 1 and has not heard from the Office of the Secretary of State, who is supposed to deliver the machines.
“It's getting closer and closer,” Mellem said. “It's becoming a great concern at this point. I am hopeful that all will fall into place.”
Officials from the Secretary of State's office could not be reached for comment.
The machines' manufacturers, ES&S and AutoMARK, are set to train Mellem and deputy election administrator Betty Williams on how to use the machines beginning April 17.
The new ballot-marking terminals are designed for use by voters who would find it difficult or impossible to vote using old techniques. The machines provide a touch screen and puff-tube for those who are not able to use the touch screen, audio directions and a zoom feature for those with impaired vision.
The new equipment and changed polling locations are planned to be used in the June 6 primary election.
The changes to the polling stations will bring the county's election facilities in line with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The 21 voting sites previously used will be consolidated into 10 polling stations because the other 11 cannot be cost-effectively changed to meet the ADA requirements, which go into effect in June.
The ADA standards require polling facilities to meet the needs of the disabled, including wide doorways, designated parking and bathrooms with suitable handicapped-accessible stalls.
None of the 10 sites meet the standards but the fixes needed are relatively minor.
At a public meeting held by the Hill County Commission and the Clerk and Recorder's Office, a resident suggested using a Kremlin location as a possible alternate polling station, but that building did not meet federal requirements.
Mellem said the adjustments will cost about $3,000 per facility. The majority of costs for replacing and installing signs and other needs will be covered with Help America Vote Act grants.
She said the polling sites -with the improvements - should meet ADA requirements for the next seven years.
Mellem said she has been hearing that people will be less apt to vote at the consolidated polling stations. Those who are deterred by the changes can vote by absentee ballot.
“Absentee is so much simpler now. Voters who feel distance would be a hardship should look into the permanent absentee system,” Mellem said.
Seventy-five Hill County residents are already on the permanent absentee list, she said.
“I'd hate to think anyone would give up voting when absentee ballots are so easy,” Mellem said.
Reminder cards also are sent out before elections.
Hill County Commissioner Doug Kaercher said Mellem did all the “leg work” to recommend the most appropriate solutions.
“It appeared to be a reasonable compromise from what we have now,” Kaercher said. “If travel is a problem, people can get absentee and vote at their own leisure and own home.”
Mellem said fewer polling places also will minimize long-term expenses.
The cost of the new equipment and the first year's operation costs will be covered by the Secretary of State's office, she said. Annual maintenance and operation costs will be paid by the county.
The new polling places are listed at the top of Page A2.