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Porter County Administration Building stock

The Porter County Administration Building in downtown Valparaiso. County income tax money is being used to renovate county-owned buildings.

VALPARAISO — The Porter County commissioners won't support the purchase of new election equipment or the consolidation of polling places heading into this year's election season.

Commissioners President Jeff Good, R-Center, read a statement at the beginning of Tuesday's commissioners meeting outlining issues with the proposal by the county's election board.

Calling the right to vote "sacred and fundamental to our democracy," Good said the decision to not support the changes "protects the rights of voters, as well as maintains their trust in our election system."

Good said the idea of consolidating the present 86 polling places to 46 caused concerns by the commissioners and the Porter County Council. He said the concerns centered around the availability of polling places, whether Wi-Fi would be adequate and how the 38,000 voters in the county would be educated about the changes before the May 8 primary date.

Last fall the election board proposed spending over $1.8 million to purchase electronic voting equipment to replace the current 12-year-old equipment.

Good said there are concerns relating to both upfront and ongoing maintenance cost for new equipment and whether it would result in cost savings from a reduction in poll workers.

"There are just 11 weeks until the primary election day and only seven weeks until early voting begins. Yet confusion and misinformation regarding this proposal remains with little time left to resolve them," Good read. 

He said the new equipment would have to be ordered, delivered and programmed and staff and poll workers trained.

"Lastly, this new equipment requires robust Wi-Fi at each polling location. If we approve the proposal now, we run a significant risk of voter confusion that could irreparably damage public perception of the integrity of our voting system," Good said.

County Councilman Dan Whitten, D-at-large, who attended the commissioners' meeting, said the council has concerns about the timeline as well and that the proposal "doesn't bode well for voters."

The commissioners returned the proposal to the election board for revisions and suggested resubmitting in the fall, at the start of the 2019 budget cycle. The $450,000 encumbered for the new equipment will remain available next year.

"We are disappointed, but at least the commissioners left the option open for 2019," said election board President David Bengs, adding they will return with the request next year.

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Porter County reporter

Joyce has been a reporter for more than 38 years, including 23 years with The Times. She covers municipal and school government in Valparaiso and Portage.