OCEAN PINES – The Ocean Pines Association will move forward with a new voting contractor.
Last Saturday, the Ocean Pines Association Board of Directors voted 4-2-1 to approve Election Trust as the association’s new voting contractor. The Washington-based company will be tasked with printing and handling all election materials for the upcoming board election at a cost of $15,994.50.
“I think this is one of the things we need to do moving forward with the technology we have,” said Director Farr, board liaison for the Ocean Pines Elections Committee. “And I think it’s one of the things that would be best for the association.”
The board had before them last week a motion submitted by Farr to enter into an agreement with Election Trust to conduct and perform all printing, mailing, receipt and counting of all votes in the 2023 board election. The bid totaled $13,937.50 for paper-only contract costs and $15,944.50 for both paper and online contract costs.
For her part, Director Colette Horn questioned why the association would need hybrid voting services after the board agreed to eliminate online voting for the upcoming election. She also questioned why the association would not move forward with its existing vendor, Berlin-based ACE Printing & Mailing.
“The election committee’s argument was that the processes that the vendor used for many years was not in dispute and was not a problem,” Director Colette Horn said. “So I’m not appreciating why we would be going out of state for a vendor whose involvement in this process, particularly with respect to the issue of mailing things back and forth, why that is going to be an improvement over a company that we used previously, at no cost savings whatsoever. And we’re giving up an opportunity to support a local business. I’m not going to vote in favor of this.”
In a memo submitted to the general manager and the board, Elections Committee Chair Tom Piatti said ACE Printing & Mailing had declined to bid on services for the 2023 election. To that end, committee members conducted research to find a national company that could perform election services. The association received bids from two companies – Election Trust and Survey & Ballott.
“Not only do we find Election Trust to be the best value, but they also offer an ‘Observable Live Count’ option,” he wrote. “Also, there will be no back-and-forth electronic exchange of election data as was done in 2022 and OPA will no longer have to procure software or equipment for ballot counting purposes.”
In an interview this week, ACE Printing & Mailing owner Thom Gulyas said he has worked with Ocean Pines for more than two decades. He said he had never declined to bid on election services.
“It’s a shame that it’s come down to this,” he said. “I just want to make sure that those folks in the Pines know I’ve been in business almost 40 years. I have not turned down any job.”
Gulyas said he had received a request for quote (RFQ) but argued he didn’t have enough information about vacancies or the number of people running to accurately bid. He recalled telling the committee his services would be comparable to years past.
“Imagine I went into a construction office and said, ‘I want you to build me a home, give me a price. I’m not going to tell you anything else about it, give me a price,’” he said. “How can I do that? There’s no way, and I made them aware of this.”
During last Saturday’s board meeting, Director Frank Daly shared his concerns about the RFQ process.
“We can’t ignore the situation that the vendor we used for all our past elections has said, ‘I’ve been iced out for some odd reason from this one,’” he said.
He also questioned if Election Trust had the capability to confirm received ballots.
“It appears if they have that capability that would take care of certain questions regarding using somebody out of the area …,” he said. “That’s something we should put in, and that seems to me that that’s worth the cost of doing.”
There were also concerns about late ballots and the reliability of the U.S. Postal Service. While he said he had no sympathy for those who turned in ballots too late to be counted, Daly said he saw some advantage to having the association maintain its dropbox location at the police station. He said the association could then collect those ballots on the cutoff date and mail them overnight to Election Trust.
“At the beginning I was not a big fan of continuing to drop it off at the admin building …,” Association President Doug Parks replied, “But at the end of the day I think it’s practical because people are used to doing it that way and there’s not a lot of overhead or risk with continuing to offer that service.”
For his part, Director Steve Jacobs said he opposed the selection of Election Trust, as using the Washington-based company violated procedures set by Resolution M-06, which states it’s the committee’s responsibility to count ballots and that ballot counting must be conducted in a room to accommodate the process and association members wishing to observe the count.
“There cannot be any question that this language assumes the count and the ability to witness the count is to be local and not on Zoom, Teams, Skype or anything else,” he said.
Jacobs also questioned the committee’s process for selecting a new vendor, as there had been no evidence of a public meeting, a meeting agenda, or meeting minutes. He added that choosing Election Trust would cost the association more money, as postage was not included in the bid.
“Why are we spending more than $16,000 to do this?” he said.
Parks responded to Jacobs’ questions about Resolution M-06. While he argued there were different interpretations of the language, the wording could be changed.
He noted that a first reading of revisions to Resolution M-06 were reviewed earlier in the meeting. He said modifications could be made before the next board meeting.
“We will look at M-06 next month for a second reading,” he said. “And those will be incorporated and discussed to see if they are valid and relevant to be included in there.”
After further discussion, the board voted 4-2-1, with Parks, Farr, Director Monica Rakowski and Director Stuart Lakernick in favor, Jacobs and Horn opposed, and Daly abstaining, to approve Election Trust as the new voting contractor for the 2023 board election.
Gulyas said in an interview this week he hopes to work with the Ocean Pines Association on future elections.
“I’d love to still do the job,” he said. “I don’t understand why they feel they are going to get anything better at twice the cost. It makes no sense to me whatsoever.”