Wayne County taxpayers won’t see a bill for nearly $125,000 of equipment that officials say should make the 2024 election run more smoothly.
On Friday, Jan. 12, Indiana Secretary of State Diego Morales traveled to Richmond to present a ceremonial check for $123,501 to Clerk of Circuit Court Debra Berry, election board members and county officials.
Berry successfully applied to Morales’ office for the funding, which comes from a 2023 Help America Vote Act Election Security Grant authorized by Congress. Morales distributed the approximately $2 million in federal funding around the state.
The largest amount of the local grant, $80,051, will buy a central count scanner and a backup scanner to help count ballots more quickly on Election Day.
An Indiana election law has changed that requires voters who cast ballots in advance at the county courthouse or at vote centers to place their ballots in sealed envelopes. Ballots are also in envelopes from those who were eligible to vote absentee via mail. Those envelopes can’t be opened for scanning until 6 a.m. on Election Day.
Berry and other local election officials were concerned about how fast they could process the ballots when more voters usually turn out on presidential election years.
Bipartisan teams open the envelopes, unfold and pass the ballots to others for scanning to maintain voters’ privacy.
The county’s current scanner could only accommodate one ballot at a time, but 500 can be placed in the new scanner.
Berry said Wayne County had about 1,100 absentee ballots to process in the November 2023 municipal election that only involved Richmond, Cambridge City and Milton voters.
She expects many more ballots to be cast in advance and on Election Day in 2024.
With Morales’ grant, Berry also will buy 48 more voting booths for about $12,000, plus five box printers and four ballot printers totaling $31,450.
In hopes of increasing voter confidence, Wayne County switched in 2022 to paper ballots. Voters now use ink pens to fill in boxes on those ballots instead of turning a dial on a computer to select their candidates.
Berry is hopeful that with the new technology and added voting booths, voters will be able to smoothly cast their ballots and learn election results.
Some voters and poll workers had to deal with an unexpected power outage on Election Day in November. Berry said the local team’s experience was shared during a recent statewide election administration meeting and the local team was praised for its efforts.
Berry said she’s grateful that the local election remained safe and secure, and that the election plan worked.
Earlier in the week, the county’s election board met to take their 2024 oaths and certify the electronic poll books, which had no changes.
Democrat Maggie Thomas nominated Republican Clay Miller as the election board’s president, and he agreed to serve again in that role. Berry also is on the election board and breaks ties if needed.
A version of this article appeared in the January 17 2024 print edition of the Western Wayne News.