The Charter Township of Ypsilanti Board of Trustees voted down two options to purchase additional ballot scanners during their meeting on Aug. 26. The scanners would have been used to count absentee ballots for the upcoming general election.
As a result of COVID-19, more people are applying for absentee ballots. In an interview with the Ypsilanti Township Clerk, Karen Lovejoy Roe, she told the Echo her office receives about 150 applications per day for absentee ballots. The general election is estimated to bring the township between 25,000 and 28,000 absentee ballots. She fears that she and her staff will not be equipped enough to face the massive number of new ballots without the addition of new ballot scanners.
Option A was a request to purchase five digital ballot scanners from Hart Interactive. Currently, the Township has five scanners to count absentee ballots, this option would have provided them with a total of 10. The five scanners would have cost the township $18,600, after receiving a grant of $9,125 from the state. Option B was a request to purchase Verity Central Software and a high-speed ballot scanner from Hart Interactive for $124,405.00. With grants from the state, the price would have dropped to $79,405.
Option A was denied by a one to six vote, and Option B, for the high-speed scanner, was also voted down in a two to six vote. Karen Lovejoy Roe and Trustee Heather Jarrell Roe both voted in favor of the high-speed scanner.
Lovejoy Roe believes that the high-speed scanner is the best decision for the safety of the inspectors, long term costs, and the future of running elections in Ypsilanti Township. Lovejoy Roe pointed out that the continuing township population growth will result in more precincts being added in the future. Therefore, additional regular scanners would need to be purchased and more inspectors would need to be hired. With each scanner purchased, six additional inspectors are hired to operate it at a rate of $13 per hour.
Monica Ross-Williams, an Ypsilanti Township Trustee, followed several other trustees in voting down both options. Ross-Williams stated that her vote was based on a financial decision. She also noted that the COVID-19 pandemic was still ongoing.
“Even if we’re getting the projected shared revenue, we still have to look at that we may have ongoing impacts with the coronavirus going into 2021.”
Lovejoy Roe provided a 10 year analysis for both Option A and Option B. Between the years 2025 to 2029, the total maintenance cost for a high-speed scanner is projected to be $118,000.00, and $14,100 for the five digital ballot scanners.
Lovejoy Roe suggested that purchasing the high-speed scanner is beneficial in the long run because it is capable of scanning 10,000 ballots in one hour. As a result of its speed, it requires fewer inspectors for each election and shorter hours which results in a safer operation for the inspectors on the Absent Voter Counting Board.
As a result of having 11,000 absentee ballots for the August Primary Election, Lovejoy Roe stated that the inspectors did not leave until 4:30 a.m. To help gain some perspective, Lovejoy Roe shared that during the August primary election, Ann Arbor scanned 29,000 absentee ballots with 15 scanners, and the process was not done until 4 a.m.
“Ten machines probably isn’t going to be enough . . . I could be in more trouble than I think I am,” Lovejoy Roe said. She warned that the grants that are currently being offered for the high-speed scanner might not be available "ever again” after the general election, because of the special circumstances that have stemmed from COVID-19.
Unlike Lovejoy Roe, Ross-Williams doesn’t believe that the high-speed scanner is the best decision for long-term costs. Ross-Williams shared that Jocelyn Benson, the Secretary of State of Michigan, is advocating for the state legislature to allow the processing of absentee ballots prior to the election date.
“I would predict that after this election, unfortunately some things don’t happen until after elections, this action will be done,” Ross-Williams. said.
She believes that this will help alleviate the overwhelming amount of absentee ballots in the future, without the need to purchase additional equipment.
Now, Lovejoy Roe is working on getting the additional scanners she believes are needed for the township. Her goal is to have 10 scanners for the Absent Voter Counting Board, with two backups. Washtenaw County has loaned her two scanners, and she has been approved for a grant that has provided an additional scanner, giving her a total of eight scanners that will be used to count absentee ballots.