Blind World

Parties disagree on voting machines.
Board of Elections divided on devices.

January 15, 2004.

The Toledo Blade.

Politics were at play yesterday when the four members of the Lucas County Board of Elections split along party lines in their choice of a new voting machine for the county.

If the board canít break the 2-2 deadlock, the Ohio secretary of state will decide for them.

The board chose Diebold Election Systems, Inc., of McKinney, Texas, as the vendor. But Democrats Paula Ross and Diane Brown opted for Dieboldís optical scanner, while Republicans Bernadette Noe and Sam Thurber endorsed Dieboldís touch-screen unit.

The stalemate occurred when Ms. Ross, the boardís chairman, asked Ms. Noe and Mr. Thurber to support proposed state and federal legislation that would require the touch-screen units to include a paper adapter that would assist voter verification and possible recounts "for the purpose of voter confidence."

Ms. Noe and Mr. Thurber declined.

"I think it will be costly," Mr. Thurber said. "I donít know if there are funds available to pay for it. Itís so far out in the future, itís not germane to todayís vote."

Lucas County last year joined 68 other Ohio counties in mothballing their punch-card or levered voting machines in favor of the scanners or touch-screen units to comply with federal election reform law passed in 2002. Nineteen counties had made the switch.

Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell gave the countiesí election boards until today to choose from four vendors whose machines his office has certified.

The local election boards used both units in November with mixed success. Most complaints centered around long lines for the touch-screen units, forcing voters to use the scanners, which take more time because voters have to mark their ballots before feeding them into the scanner.

Franchot Thomas, Sr., a Diebold account manager, said the dispute is moot because all of the countyís 495 precincts will have to have at least one touch-screen unit because itís the only machine Diebold makes that includes an adapter for the visually impaired.

Ms. Brown, who voted against the touch-screen unit, conceded the optical scanner is not user-friendly for the visually impaired.

Touch-screen units also are cheaper - about $2,900 a unit, compared to twice as much or more for the scanner, Mr. Thomas said.

So far, 33 counties have chosen Diebold as their vendor, and most have opted for touch screens, Mr. Thomas said.

Last month, U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) said she was concerned about the relationship between Diebold and the Republican majority in the stateís administration and legislature in light of the news that Dieboldís chairman sent out a fund-raising letter declaring he wants to secure Ohioís electoral votes for President Bush.

Miss Kaptur has called for voting-machine vendors to make public their computer programming codes to allow public inspections for potential defects.

State Sen. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo) and state Rep. Peter Ujvagi (D., Toledo) have introduced legislation requiring the touch-screen machines to have printers that produce paper receipts.

Mr. Thomas said Diebold has the technology for such printers. "Weíre waiting for the federal government or state governments to certify such a machine before we can move forward," he said.

Five counties - Lucas, Cuyahoga, Hamilton, Montgomery, and Summit - failed to make a final decision on a voting machine yesterday, according to Carlo LoParo, a secretary of state spokesman.

He said his office would send a representative to meet with each elections board to help them make a final decision. Should the elections boards remain unable to choose a machine or vendor, the secretary of state has the authority to pick for them.

© 2003 The Blade.

End of article.

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