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County to Buy Voting Booths From Firm Cited in Probe

Times Staff Writer

A firm under investigation for its relationship with former county Registrar of Voters Ray Ortiz was tentatively awarded a contract Monday to sell portable voting booths to the county, officials said.

San Diego County will buy 11,700 used cardboard booths from Election Data Corp. of Escondido for $5.50 each.

The total contract will be worth $64,350--at least $40,000 less than the county would have paid to rent the same voting booths from the same firm under a deal reached in 1985 between Ortiz and Richard J. Stephens, president of Election Data.

Under the new agreement, however, the county will be responsible for distributing and collecting the booths and keeping them in usable condition, a cost that acting Registrar Keith Boyer said Monday he could not estimate.

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Ortiz resigned Sept. 1 amid a district attorney’s investigation of contracts awarded during his tenure as registrar, including more than $400,000 in business with Election Data. He is now working for R. F. Shoup Co., a Pennsylvania-based manufacturer of electronic voting equipment.

An affidavit filed in Superior Court in July by the district attorney’s office in support of warrants to search the houses of Ortiz and Stephens mentioned the agreement the two men struck for the leasing of voting booths.

In the affidavit, investigator Carlos Rebelez said he believed that Ortiz made Stephens’ offer to lease the booths to the county look better by inflating the price the county would have to pay if it were to buy the booths.

Ortiz had said it would cost $9.50 each to buy the booths, plus additional costs for getting them ready for the polls, distributing them to poll sites, picking them up and keeping them in good repair. He estimated those costs at $17,000 for fiscal year 1985-86.

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Boyer said the latest request for bids showed that Ortiz’s estimate of the cost for new booths was not that far off the mark.

Election Data offered to sell the county new booths for $9 each, Boyer said, while Election Supply Ltd. of Napa offered them at a price of $8.89. County purchasing director James Tapp said his office opted instead for Election Data’s alternative offer to sell the county the used booths for $5.50 a piece.

“At $5.50, this is a real good deal,” Boyer said. “Sure, you’re going to save money. They (the booths) are in our warehouse, they have our name on them. Where else is he going to use them right now?”

But Boyer said he wasn’t sure if Ortiz had correctly estimated the cost of handling the booths. Boyer said that, in some instances, the county had helped Election Data distribute the booths because it was awkward to get the county’s trucks and the company’s trucks into the regional distribution centers at the same time. Boyer said he is doing another accounting of those costs to determine if the county can handle the booths for less money than it costs to hire a contractor.

Tapp said he thought the deal announced Monday was better than the lease agreement reached between Ortiz and Election Data in 1985 for the booths, which were new at the time.

Under that deal, which could have been extended at the county’s option, the county would have paid $3 per booth per election, or a total of $105,300 for three elections. Instead, the county will pay $64,350 to own the booths, which are expected to last for at least three elections. If the booths last longer, the savings would be greater.

Boyer said 18 firms were offered the opportunity to bid on the booths contract, and the two offers that came in were reviewed by a panel that included the city clerks of Chula Vista, National City and Vista, and a representative from the San Diego city clerk’s office.

“This went out on a bid, and it was structured so that all types of companies could bid on it,” Boyer said. “We had a panel evaluate it. So looking at it from the standpoint of the election, and from purchasing’s standpoint of cost on a life-cycle basis, this came out to be the best deal.”

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On Monday, the county announced its intention to award the contract to Election Data. The actual award usually comes five days after such an announcement.


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