Voting in elections changed with the COVID-19 pandemic, and Lincoln County Clerk and Election Commissioner Becky Rossell said it will never be the same.
In anticipation of more people voting by mail-in ballot, Rossell requested that the county purchase a hardware and software system that will make it more efficient for her office to manage the varying conditions of elections. On Monday, the Lincoln County commissioners approved the purchase of Balotar, an on-demand hardware and software program.
“The reason I’m asking for this today is that after the 2020 elections, the face of elections has changed forever,” Rossell said. “After 2020, (applications) had already tripled and I would anticipate that would increase even more.”
Rossell and deputy election commissioner Terry Heessel visited Lancaster County for three or four days in April and May to observe the process with the Balotar software. Lancaster and Hall County both have used Balotar for some time, she said, as have other Nebraska counties.
Printing ballots, Rossell said, has become more complicated because of many factors, including now having four political parties and different voting districts.
Angie Frison of Election Systems and Software of Omaha said via phone conference that the software would save the county time and money. The initial cost of the software is $18,130, plus maintenance fees for each election.
“How it works is you (the county) would purchase a printer from us and a laptop,” Frison said. “We load what’s called our Balotar software onto that laptop. It is not connected to the internet; it’s not connected to your county network.”
The software will allow Rossell’s office to look up the ballot requested and print it on demand for a particular voter.
“It’s a very simple software program and it’s just an extension from voter registration,” Frison said. “All that information that’s going to be in the software is going to come directly from your voter registration system.”
Frison said another benefit of the system is having full control over ballot printing.
“You’ll never be in a situation where you will run out of ballots,” Frison said.
She said it’s difficult to know how many ballots to order under the current system. To avoid running out of ballots, many unused ballots are wasted.
“So, Becky (Rossell), with the uniqueness and varied ballots,” Chairman Kent Weems said, “this is a way to expedite that process where you have so many different districts and wards, school zones, fire districts and on and on.”
Rossell said the county had close to 200 ballot styles in the last general election.
Commissioner Chris Bruns followed up with a question.
“For the record and for clarification,” Bruns said, “this has zero to do with the tabulation of the actual votes. It’s strictly just creating the ballots.”
Frison answered in the affirmative.
Rossell said the ballot stock she would order for the Balotar system is usable for any election, because “it is basically a blank sheet of paper.”
The commissioners approved the purchase. The funds for the system will come from the federal CARES Act, although Rossell said she has enough money in her budget to purchase it if necessary.
In other action, the commissioners authorized Weems to sign the contract with Contech Engineered Solutions for the O’Fallon culvert project at Sutherland.