By Cindy Hoffman
(March 16, 2023) The Election Committee is gearing up for the 2023 election process. This year, two seats for the board are up for election. Both Doug Parks and Colette Horn cannot run again due to term limits. The deadline for candidates to file is 4 pm on Wednesday, May 10.
Last year, there were significant problems with the election process, resulting in an over count of ballots, which led to a 940-vote error. After reviewing the process, the current election committee identified in their second report to the Board on January 19, 2023, that “poor scanning software used in both 2021- and 2022 elections, opaque paper ballots and a lack of pre-flight testing resulted in the wrong initial count in 2022.”
During the February board meeting, the board tasked the committee with making final recommendations for the 2023 election cycle. The committee has provided the board with their recommendations and the board will consider them during their March 18 meeting.
The recommendations are twofold. One: approval of the Election Committee to continue to research to obtain credible scanning software, conduct end user testing and hire an independent contractor to perform ballot scanning under the committee’s visual supervision.
Two: approval of the Election Committee to suspend online voting for 2023 and continue research to find a contractor that has an alternative “control number” solution in order to eliminate “weighting” confusion experienced by multi-lot members in the 2022 election. Projected online implementation is 2024.
Committee member George Alston led the search for a new scanning software company and has identified REMARK out of Philadelphia, PA.
“REMARK is considered the Cadillac of the business,” said Alston. “Our contractor Tom Gulyas says it’s first class.”
“This software is top of the line and, at $250, is priced much less than Snap Survey,” said Alston. Snap Survey was the software used for last year’s elections and is not considered a ballot counting software.
“The product is made for voting and uses OMR, which is an optical marke reader,” he said.
Optimum Mark Reader (OMR) is the process of reading information that people mark on surveys, tests and other paper documents.
“We don’t need any new equipment,” said Alston. The Xerox scanner purchased by the Ocean Pines Association for the 2022 elections can be used with the REMARK software. The current scanner can process 3400 ballots per hour.
General Manager John Viola has already approved the Elections Committee request to have Thom Gulyas of Ace Printing and Mailing develop test ballots and run them on OPA’s equipment. The REMARK scanning software the Election Committee recommends can be temporarily downloaded for free for test purposes.
For the past 18 or more years, Gulyas has been awarded a contract to only print materials and process the envelopes and ballots. A separate, short-term contract was awarded to another independent contractor to physically perform the ballot count. At times, a member of the OPA IT Department assisted that contractor.
The expected process for counting ballots for the 2023 elections is that the contractor will count the ballots under the supervision of the Election Committee. No member of the committee will touch a ballot. The contractor will only show the committee any problem ballots, so they can rule on those.
To avoid the issues of the past, this year, multiple lot owners will receive an envelope and a ballot for each lot.
By using paper ballots, the committee can conduct an audit if necessary. This process, just like elections run by the state, will be open to election watchers