Questions about whether a proposal to extend a contract between St. Joseph County and its elections consultant would prevent the county from moving ahead on a plan to implement vote centers sparked a tense back-and-forth Tuesday between two members of the Board of Commissioners. The proposal, approved by the county Election Board in August, extends the county’s contract with RBM Consulting another four years — Jan. 1, 2014 to Dec. 31 2017 — under the same terms and conditions as before. An elections services and systems company based in Indiana, RBM provides service to the county in support of its current voting system. “Nowhere in this four-year contract extension is voting centers even listed as an option,” Commissioner Dave Thomas, D-District 2, said in a prepared statement. Thomas argued that extending the contract would lock the county into the current, precinct voting system until at least 2018, contrary to the Election Board’s wish to move to vote centers as soon as 2014.
“This proposed extension ignores this logic, ignores public input, and ignores public perception by wanting to contract for the old, traditional, and current precinct election system for another four years,” Thomas said. Thomas also described the proposal as circumventing the “open, fair and transparent” bidding process by which most contracts are awarded in the county. “The open bidding process allows for fairness between vendors, saves taxpayer dollars, and allows for the best possible plan to address a challenge,” he said. “This (proposal) ignores those safeguards and benefits.”
Commissioner Bob Kovach, D-District 3, responded by noting that the county’s attorney, Anthony Zappia, had reviewed the proposal and found it to be satisfactory. Kovach also noted that Thomas had voted to extend other contracts in the past without first seeking bids from other, competing vendors. “This contract does not eliminate our ability to move to vote centers,” board President Andy Kostielney, R-District 1, added, “nor does it give any particular advantage to a particular vendor.” In response, Thomas challenged Kostielney to “please, show me where in this (proposal) it references vote centers?”