Under the Dome

Ballot printer denies having an unfair edge

August 10, 2010 



An item in Tuesday's Under the Dome column incorrectly explained what state documents said about a business relationship between the Omaha, Neb., company that sold North Carolina its voting machines and a New Bern ballot printer.

Documents show that if a county election director approached ES&S of Omaha about ballots, the company would first offer the business to Printelect of New Bern.

****** The company that prints ballots for most North Carolina counties says it earned the business.

On Monday, Printelect of New Bern released two documents that it says prove that it doesn't have an unfair advantage in getting state business. Gary Bartlett, executive director of the State Board of Elections, has said he thinks Printelect has a monopoly.

Printelect is the sole representative in North Carolina of ES&S, an Omaha, Neb., company that has the only concession to sell voting machines in the state. The company has been the subject of news stories that show it has received the vast majority of the ballot-printing business for state elections. Records show its prices are higher than those paid by a handful of counties that use a printer who doesn't have a relationship with ES&S.

Ballots must be printed on special paper and with exact specifications. ES&S recommends that ballots be printed by "certified" printers. Records show that the certification requires training, an upfront cash payment and a commitment to charge a "royalty" on every ballot.

Printelect's president, Owen Andrews, says his company's relationship with ES&S doesn't give him a special advantage on ballot printing. Printelect does the printing for at least 85 of the state's 100 counties.

On Monday, Printelect sent out a document showing a list of printers certified by ES&S, as well as a July 2006 message from Bartlett outlining options for counties on ballot printing. Counties were not required to use Printelect, according to the memo.

"Hopefully these two documents prove as evidence that the ballot printing business earned by Printelect was because of merit, customer relationship, reliability, and exceptional product," wrote Chris D. Andrews, an account executive and marketing manager for Printelect.

Bartlett's memo does note that Printelect was ES&S's go-to partner. "PrintElect has first right of refusal with ES&S in North Carolina," Bartlett wrote.

Printelect denies that such a relationship exists. The memo shows that county elections directors were told that it does.

Value of audits touted

State Auditor Beth Wood doesn't want the legislature to forget about her.

Wood, a Democrat, said that as lawmakers prepare to face a budget deficit next year that could grow to more than $3 billion, she has asked her staff to look hard at ways to save the state money.

Wood noted that audits conducted by her office led to three money-saving provisions in state law.

"I want the General Assembly to look more to our office to be kind of their eyes and ears," Wood said.

A new law gave state officials better oversight on state contracting. The law resulted from a series of audits highlighting problems with state contracting.

An audit on inflated prisoner health care costs led budget writers to cut $20 million out of state spending. Another provision in the budget encourages the N.C. Department of Correction to seek Medicaid reimbursements for prisoners who would be eligible because they were treated in a hospital.

"We've gotten some mileage out of some audits that we've done, but we just need more," Wood said. "I'm not sure that all legislators are aware of when something comes from the state auditor's office."

Senate poll update

A new poll by Rasmussen Reports shows U.S. Sen. Richard Burr is leading Secretary of State Elaine Marshall 49 percent to 40 percent.

The poll of 500 likely voters was conducted Aug. 3. About 3 percent of voters picked another candidate, and 8 percent were undecided.

The poll's margin of sampling error was 4.5 percentage points, which means, statistically speaking, the race is still close.

Last week, a poll by Public Policy Polling had Burr, a Winston-Salem Republican, only slightly ahead of Marshall, a Democrat, at 39 percent to 37 percent.

Rasmussen's latest results led the pollster to shift its ranking of the Burr-Marshall contest from "Solid GOP" to "Leans GOP."

By staff writer Benjamin Niolet

ben.niolet@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4521

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