By Cindy Hoffman, Staff Writer
(May 25, 2023) The Ocean Pines Board of Directors on Saturday voted to approve the hiring of Election Trust, a third-party company out of Washington State to run this year’s board elections.
But that decision did not come without considerable debate.
The contract is for $16,000 to conduct all printing, mailing, receipt and counting of all votes for the August elections. The contractor was identified by the association’s Elections Advisory Committee.
For the past 18 years, the association had used the services of Ace Printing and Mailing of Berlin, according to Tom Piatti, chair of the Election Advisory Committee. But Piatti said in a letter to General Manager John Viola tha Ace Printing and Mailing declined to bid on services for the 2023 board election.
Tom Gulyas, who owns Ace Printing and Mailing, disputed that in a letter to Joe Reynolds of the OceanPinesForum.com.
“At no time have I, as the owner, nor any representative of my company, ever made a comment that ACE Printing & Mailing is not interested in helping OPA continue with their elections,” Gulyas said.
Gulyas added that there were several variables, including the number of vacancies on the board, that made it difficult to provide accurate pricing for the job. He said he told the committee he would reach back out after the candidate filing deadline to provide a quote.
Director Colette Horn raised concerns about going out of state for a vendor that will require OPA to mail everything to them, at no cost savings to OPA.
“We are giving up an opportunity to support a local business,” she said.
Director Steve Jacobs also objected to relying so heavily on the Postal Service to conduct the elections. He pointed out that ballots are due on Aug. 9, and the count is to occur on Aug. 11. That provides only two days for a ballot to get from Ocean Pines to Washington State.
There was general agreement by the board to continue to provide a ballot drop-off box and to use overnight mail to deliver ballots from the box to the vendor.
Jacobs said the local contractor told him the drop box accounted for 30-45 percent of the total votes cast in last year’s election.
That will help with local ballots, but not for those who might be mailing the ballots on the Aug. 9 deadline.
Jacobs also noted that the $16,000 cost of the contractor does not include postage costs, which could add another $4,000 in expenditures.
He said the costs of last year’s contractor came in at about $8,500.
In addition to the additional postal costs for Election Trust, Jacobs reminded the board that Ocean Pines purchased a high-speed scanner in 2022 for the elections.
“The scanner got high marks. The issues were software, paper stock, and ink bleeding, and the committee apparently resolved these issues.
“You have to ask yourself, we purchased a scanner in 2022, we have new software, the local contractor says the software would work, so why are we spending at least $16,000 to do this?”
“Nothing in this proposal says the local contractor used over the past couple of years cannot do the same function that this contract calls for at a lower cost.”
Another concern raised by Jacobs was the requirement in the OPA regulations to allow for the public to witness the count in person.
“Resolution M-06 places responsibility for counting the ballots on the committee and that it should be open to observation to those Ocean Pines members who wish to view the proceeding, in a room sufficient to accommodate the process and the association members wishing to observe the count,” Jacobs said.
“There cannot be any question that this language assumes that the count and the ability to witness the count is to be local and not on Zoom, Teams, Skype or anything else.”
Doug Parks said he and John Viola talked to counsel about this very issue.
“We decided that the best thing to do would be to propose to change that language to say, ‘is responsible for the count of the ballots whether it be in person or by a third party, as noted in Section 5 of attachment A,” Parks said.
They also looked at the language regarding observation of the count. He suggested a minor adjustment to the language to allow for the fact that you can view it virtually.
M-06 will be brought up for a second reading next month.
“We would make the changes only to accommodate this contract,” Jacobs said. “If you read the language as it is, unchanged, you could not make the case that this is not meant to be an onsite process.”
Parks responded that technology gives more people the opportunity to watch the count.
“We have an opportunity to keep it local, we have a system that has worked. There are too many breakdowns in this to make it worthwhile. I think we would be wrong to approve this proposal,” Jacobs countered.
“We have a company that has been doing this for a long time and is federally certified in elections. They have flawless election processes. This is one of the things that we should do moving forward and best for our association,” Director Rick Farr said.
The final vote favored awarding the contract to Election Trust: The four board members in favor were Monica Rakowsi, Rick Farr, Doug Parks and Stuart Lackernick; Steve Jacobs and Colette Horn voted against; and Frank Daly abstained.