The Indiana County board of commissioners on Wednesday approved the purchase of a digital-image ballot scanning machine at a cost $53,975 from ES&S (Election Systems & Software).
Chief Clerk Robin Maryai said the new ballot-counting machine was made necessary by recent changes in the election law that are expected to significantly increase the number of absentee ballots that voters will file during the presidential primary and election this year.
“Voters are now permitted to vote by mail-in ballot,” Maryai said. “Previously you could only get an absentee ballot if you were physically unable to go to the polls or if you were expected to be absent from your precinct on Election Day,” Maryai said. “Now with the passage of Act 77, anyone can vote by mail, regardless of reason. Because of this change in the law, we expect a high volume of voters voting by mail and not at the polls.”
The county will pay $32,385 of grant money and $21,590 of county tax funds for the machine.
In other business, the board:
• Authorized an application for a grant of $417,000 as provided under the state’s recent Act 77 election law. The money would reimburse about 60 percent of the $695,000 that the county paid in late 2018 for new high-security voting machines. The county earlier received $85,000 of reimbursement for the mandated upgrade.
The state will issue a bond of up to $90 million to help repay counties across Pennsylvania for recent election equipment upgrades. The funds will be allocated though GEMS, the Grant for Election Modernization and Security program.
• Approved changes to the plans for the ongoing construction for the new Alice Paul House domestic crisis shelter. The board approved changes in the contracts with three companies at work on the structure and create an additional 1,100 square feet of office space above the garage.
Dave Morrow of the Indiana County Office of Planning & Development said the change would increase the cost of the project by almost $33,000.
• Approved a modification of the construction project at the NORMA factory along Tunnelton Road, where work is underway to extend a fire wall and build a drivers’ entrance to the building. Under the change, contractors would add an additional 9-by-10-foot fire-rated overhead rolling steel door in the existing masonry fire wall at an additional cost of $9,640.
• Authorized the county’s application for a grant of $8,860 from PCoRP, the Pennsylvania Counties Risk Pool insurance program. Expected to be approved, the money would cover the installation of a sidewalk at the new site of the former West Mahoning Election House, a wooden one-room structure that has been relocated from Smicksburg-Dayton Road to downtown Smicksburg, where it is being outfitted as a tourist attraction. Maryai said the grant would pay the full cost of the sidewalk.
• Approved minor revisions to language in the employee manual for county workers. The changes reflect government mandates issued since the manual last was updated in October 2018, said Human Resources Manager Melissa Miller.
• Appointed Thomas Whitcomb, of Homer City, to a three-year term on the Highridge Water Authority board of directors.
• Reported that the courthouse and other county offices and courts will be closed Monday in observance of Presidents Day.