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Dec 17

Investing for the Integrity and Security of McLean County Elections

Posted on December 17, 2021 at 9:03 AM by Robert Watson

The process to invest in new election equipment for McLean County - 2021

By Kathy Michael – McLean County Clerk

In 2021, the process of investing in new election equipment was a challenging and intense one but it had to be accomplished to further secure the integrity of our elections in McLean County. We began researching this project in April. On December 13, at the Executive Committee meeting, our investment recommendation was approved unanimously and it then moved forward to the full County Board meeting on December 16. We concluded this process on December 16, once again with unanimous approval of our recommendation to purchase new election equipment. Per our presentations, our current voting equipment, including optical scanners and touchscreen devices, were approaching their end of life. In addition, security standards have changed significantly since the devices were purchased and updating our equipment will better enable us to align with the Department of Homeland Security’s recommendations, as well as enhance the overall voter experience. 

In our work on this project, we discovered a portion of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds allocated to McLean County could be used for the purchase of election equipment. Our McLean County Administration and our State’s Attorney’s office agreed with our assessment. 

The three vendors under consideration (GBS/Hart InterCivic, Election Systems & Software/ES&S, and Liberty/Unisyn) are well respected, reputable, and work with various counties throughout Illinois. It was the conclusion and the recommendation of the County Clerk’s office that ES&S provides all the necessary equipment and services required to meet the needs of McLean County elections.

WHY UPGRADE?

 Our current election equipment is 16 to 17 years old and while it has served voters well during that time, it has neared its end of life. The current equipment also does not have the capability to fully align with the Department of Homeland Security’s recommended security protocols. 

Voters using our current equipment have different experiences when using the optical scanner (paper ballots) versus when they use the touchscreen (electronic ballots). The ES&S equipment will better align the experience for voters whether they elect to use a paper or electronic ballot.

THE PROCESS

THE RFP 

An investment of this nature requires strict adherence to county policy requirements which includes a Request For Proposal (RFP). An RFP is a document prepared to announce an upcoming project an office would like to implement. The RFP lists details about the project and asks vendors to submit proposals. Their response to the RFP describes, in detail, very specific cost breakdowns and their ability or inability to meet requirements set forth in the description of work.

Our office had participated in just one RFP in the past decade. To make certain we were doing everything correctly, we sought advice and input from Administration, our State’s Attorney’s office, and our Information Technology (IT) Department. After the RFP was written, and with final review and approval, we published the RFP as directed and required. Vendors were asked to submit proposals on the identical amounts of equipment and service needed to serve the McLean County election process. A copy of each vendor contract for services was included in the Executive Committee and County Board member information packets for their review.

To avoid the appearance of any improper actions, the information link provided in the RFP was directed to our IT Department, not to the County Clerk’s office directly. Our IT Department notified us daily of any interested parties. The IT Department and County Clerk’s office reviewed the proposals that were received by the deadline.

Three election vendors met the RFP requirements as agreed upon by the IT Department, the State’s Attorney’s office, and the County Clerk’s office. They included GBS/Hart InterCivic, Liberty Systems/Unisyn and ES&S. Governmental Business Systems (GBS) is the vendor who represents Hart. Liberty Systems is the vendor who represents Unisyn, and ES&S is a stand-alone company. All Illinois counties must purchase equipment from vendors approved by the Illinois State Board of Elections. Dominion, ES&S, Hart InterCivic, and Unisyn are the only approved vendors. Dominion did not apply to our RFP.

Rather than hold just one demonstration for each vendor, we felt three groups of three demonstrations were needed for a thorough analysis. Between 19 and 25 invited guests attended the demonstrations.  

DEMONSTRATION 1

We held the first demonstrations from all three qualified vendors in the Community Room of the Government Center. Veteran Democratic and Republican election judges in attendance included those who have worked with McLean County elections for several years and several election cycles. To add to attendee knowledge and experience we invited technical assistants who work specifically with the election equipment during Early Voting and Election Day and have detailed knowledge of the inner workings of the election equipment including problems and solutions which they address in each election.  

DEMONSTRATION 2

We requested a second round of demonstrations by each vendor to address questions which had been raised since the initial demonstration. The same attendees were invited to the second demonstration and all three vendors participated. As with the first demonstration, following the second demonstration we reviewed our notes from our conversations with the vendors, along with comment forms submitted by the attendees.  

DEMONSTRATION 3

Our third and final demonstrations by all three vendors were held in mid-November. In addition to election staff and veteran election judges, representatives of the following organizations were invited to attend.  

Organizations Invited to Attend

League of Women Voters, ISU Center for Civic Engagement  

Heartland Community College Student Government

McLean County Democratic Party, McLean County Republican Party

McLean County Libertarian Party, McLean County Board Members

Additionally, County Clerk Kathy Michael spoke by phone or in person with several Illinois election jurisdictions seeking information on their experiences with current or past election vendors.  

THE APPROXIMATE COST ESTIMATES

The detailed breakdowns of the costs of this project were included in all County Board member packets from each vendor RFP. 

Hart InterCivic      $1,351,778.00

ES&S                   $    974,911.00

Unisyn                 $   827,626.00

SECURITY

Security processes were another key element in our decision. ES&S has many more details on security and other processes at essvote.com/faqs/. They have taken multiple steps to bolster security, including forming partnerships with organizations to help provide necessary and continuous improvements in election security. Some of these security partnerships include:

  • Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Election Task Force
  • FBI election crime unit
  • U.S. Intelligence community
  • DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA)
  • Elections Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center (EI-ISAC)
  • Information Technology Information Sharing and Analysis Center (IT-ISAC), Elections Special Interest Group (E-SIG)
  • National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
  • Sector Coordinating Council (SCC)

WHY OUR RECOMMENDATION

After months of research, demonstrations and analysis, our decision was based upon many factors as outlined in our report. Here is a brief summary:

  • ES&S is the right fit for McLean County for several reasons. We found their equipment to be very user friendly for voters as well as our election judges, who really liked the ease of opening and closing the polls on election day. Our staff was also impressed by ES&S’s customer base across the country and more importantly their presence in Illinois. Unlike the other two respondents that rely on dealer representation, ES&S sells and supports their own equipment. Please see the attached maps in your packet that reflect ES&S market share. Also included is a list of ES&S’s Illinois clients.
  • Security – ES&S testing and certification programs confirmed to us their commitment in ensuring the security of our elections. Refer to the information and links previously provided.
  • Positive surveys and comments from the attendees which included veteran election judges, election staff and our trained tech assistants
  • Several demonstrations with each vendor having multiple opportunities to present their product and answer questions
  • Customer service and the availability of numerous ES&S representatives/staff availability based in Illinois
  • Clients in 40% of Illinois counties along with 44% of states within the United States
  • Feedback the County Clerk obtained in personal discussions with numerous election jurisdictions seeking their vendor experiences

TRANSPARENCY

Now, with the final approval by the McLean County Board on December 16, 2021, we plan to have a demonstration by ES&S for McLean County voters.  We will present a virtual demonstration and offer the opportunity for the public to interact during and following this demonstration. As we have done in the past, we will continue to provide a link on the County Clerk website for questions and answer.  All questions will be addressed by not only the County Clerk’s Election Team, but by ES&S staff.

REMINDER: McLean County, Illinois has two election jurisdictions. The County Clerk’s office handles all elections in the county with the exception of City of Bloomington. City of Bloomington elections are conducted by the Bloomington Election Commission.