PLATTSBURGH — Clinton County legislators are leaning toward hiring a new company to sort out problems with the Board of Elections computer system.But one election commissioner feels it would be a waste of money."The system we have is fine," Democratic Commissioner John Brunell said Friday."It would be a waste of money to throw it in the garbage and buy a new one."
The county must comply with federal Help America Vote Act regulations, and it needs additions to its software system that will allow it to do that.Specifically, the county's voter-registration information needs to be linked to the rest of the state.The existing software provider, Elections Systems and Software of Omaha, Neb., hinted that it would be leaving the state by next year, leaving the county in search of a provider so it can comply with HAVA regulations.But county Supervising Program Analyst Barbara Foster told legislators at the recent Finance Committee meeting that Elections Systems and Software has done an about-face and is willing hire a contractor to upgrade the county's system.Another firm, NTS, is also willing to do the job for the county, but it would cost $179,000 to hire them.Some legislators were not sold on the about-face offer from ES&S, saying they believe it still would be only a matter of time before the company leaves the state."We're going to have to do this (hire a new company) sooner or later, so we might as well do it now or else the cost will probably go up if we wait," said Keith Defayette (D-Area 5, Schuyler Falls).
Defayette also noted that other counties, including the much larger counties of Nassau and Westchester, were also courting NTS.He said that if they strike a deal with NTS first, Clinton County would have to wait much longer for help because the Nassau and Westchester election systems are so much bigger."They (NTS) will have to take care of them first, and that could take awhile," Defayette said.In a straw poll, Jackie Walker (D-Area 8, Town and City of Plattsburgh) Tom Sears (R-Area 3, Beekmantown), Robert Butler (R-Area 6, Saranac), Celine Paquette (R-Area 1, Champlain) and Defayette favored hiring NTS.Sara Rowden (D-Area 4, Town of Plattsburgh) and Sam Trombley (R-Area 2, Ellenburg) said they were not in favor of making the move.
"I think we need some more information," Rowden said.Trombley said he was against making any changes to the election system."This is ridiculous. There is nothing wrong with the machines we have," he said. "We shouldn't change anything."Defayette reminded Trombley that the state is mandating voting changes."I know they are, but I'm still against it," Trombley said defiantly.Legislature Chairman Jimmy Langley (R-Area 7, Peru), Robert Heins (R-Area 10, City of Plattsburgh) and John Gallagher (D-Area 9, City of Plattsburgh) were not at the Finance Committee meeting.Brunell said Elections Systems and Software has stated in writing that they would do the job for the county, and not leave."That's a lot of work for them, and they wouldn't commit to it if they didn't intend to stay," he said.
Brunell also said that if the county stays with Elections Systems and Software, the state will pay for the extra work that needs to be done as part of HAVA compliance.But if the county goes with NTS, the state will not pay because it would involve the purchase of a whole new software package, which the county already has."The state will pay for this interface we need, but they aren't going to buy us a new software package because we already have one," Brunell said."I don't think the legislators fully understand this. It would be a waste of taxpayer money to go out and get a new vendor and new software."Legislators will make a final decision at their next regular meeting on April 11.