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Ocean Pines hires Pittsburgh company to handle ’24 election

The Ocean Pines Association Board of Directors has a Pittsburgh company to handle ballot counting for the upcoming election.

Pines special board meeting

The Ocean Pines Association Board of Directors is pictured at a special meeting on April 24, where they vote on the approval of an election contractor, MK Election Services out of Connecticut & Pennsylvania. The selected company will handle printing ballots, mailing ballots, and counting ballots.
Submitted photo / Bayside Gazette

By Tara Fischer, Staff Writer 

The Ocean Pines Association Board of Directors has hired Pittsburgh-based MK Election Services, a company that offers observable ballot counting, to handle the governing body’s 2024 voting cycle. 

The Elections Committee recommended the company’s selection, which the OPA Board of Directors approved in a 6-1 vote at a special meeting on Wednesday, April 24. Director Steve Jacobs was the sole dissenting voice. 

Elections Committee Chair Tom Piatti said MK Election Services was chosen for its dedication to precision, its East Coast location, and its offer of an observable count. The company’s website promises “quick turnaround, detailed data and reports, and the highest degree of transparency.” 

The selected contractor allows residents to watch the ballot counting via Zoom. Questionable ballots and documents with incorrect markings are flagged, and the Elections Committee reviews whether they should be considered. This, along with additional processes, is viewable to all eligible voters. 

The total cost of MK Election Services is $26,335. President Rick Farr said that the OPA budget line for elections referendums is $35,000. The YesElections company from New York, approximately $6,000 less than the approved company, was also considered but did not offer viewable ballot tallying. Instead, the company provide a 10% nonprofit discount and a fixed election service pricing for three years. Most of the committee and board still opted for the transparency delivered by MK’s observable count. 

“The price is a little on the high side,” OPA Board Vice President Dr. Stuart Lakernick said. “But people are always railing on us about making sure we are transparent. I think it is worth the investment.” 

Jacobs disagreed, arguing that only 25 people joined last year’s observable count, hosted by the Washington State-based Election Trust. 

“It seems like a lot of money if you divide 25 people by $6,000,” he said. “I don’t get the sense that there is a great need for people to sit in front of a computer or go to a room to see somebody else go through the process of tabulating votes.” 

According to resident Sherrie Clifford, who spoke at the public comments segment of the April 24 meeting, the company awarded OPA’s 2024 election service contract should “do it all,” including print ballots, mail ballots, count ballots, and provide online voting. MK Elections, she said, does not, as they intend to outsource the printing of ballots to Allegheny Commercial and the mailing of ballots to RJW Hired Hands.

Clifford criticized Election Trust, last year’s hired company, for using subcontractors as well and urged the board to reconsider the Berlin-based ACE Printing and Mailing. 

The Ocean Pines citizen said that the local business “has been handling OPA’s elections for many years without any issues or problems.” 

“When in 2023 the election process needed an emergency mailing, OPA turned to ACE Printing to bail them out of a serious situation,” she continued. 

Piatti argued that outsourcing part of the election process is normal, and as the association begins to encourage online voting, looking to different companies minimizes any complications. 

The ballot deadline is Tuesday, Aug. 6. Due to delayed postal services, property owners ineligible to vote will be given an extra ten-day notice of the requirements to rectify their situation. The ballots will also be mailed 21 days earlier than last year, but the association maintains their preference of online voting. 

This story appears in the May 2, 2024, print edition of the Bayside Gazette.