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MAHONING COUNTY A voting system upgrade



Published: Sun, June 10, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The board of elections has used electronic voting at a few precincts during the last two elections.

By DAVID SKOLNICK

VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- The Mahoning County Board of Elections is moving toward an electronic voting system that could be implemented in portions of the county as early as November.

The board will advertise for proposals for a new voting system later this month or in early July and plans to award a contract, expected to be for about $4 million, in August or September, said Michael V. Sciortino, elections director.

The county has used paper ballots for the past 17 years. An electronic voting system would allow voters to cast ballots using a computer screen and a touch pad.

Tryouts: The board has used electronic voting machines at a handful of precincts during the last two elections to get a feel for the different systems, Sciortino said.

During the May primary, three companies -- Election Systems and Software of Omaha, Neb., Unilect Corp. of Dublin, Calif., and Sequoia Pacific of Exeter, Calif. -- had their equipment used by voters. Those companies are the leading contenders to be selected as the vendor for the new voting system, Sciortino said.

The board wants to move toward electronic voting for several reasons, Sciortino said. The system has more flexibility than paper ballots, has less of a chance for voter error and overvoting, and is cost effective because unlike paper voting, the board would not have to pay for the printing of ballots for each registered voter, he said. There are no plans to reduce the number of ballot workers once the county goes to an electronic system, he said.

"When the board takes into consideration all those factors, there's no reason not to move forward," Sciortino said.

Phasing it in: If the board comes to terms with a company for electronic voting, Sciortino wants to use the system in an entire community -- probably Austintown, Boardman or Struthers -- during the November general election. The board officials want to implement the electronic voting system slowly and see how it works on a smaller level before using it countywide, Sciortino said.

If all goes well during that election, the county could use the system at all voting precincts beginning in May 2002, he said.

Earlier attempt: This will be the second time the board is seeking proposals for an electronic voting system. The board took proposals last year, but decided to throw them out based on the success of the November 2000 election aided by new scanners for its paper-ballot system.

Since then, the board has become familiar with a number of different election systems. Also, at least two companies, including ES & amp;S, received state certification to have their electronic voting systems used in Ohio since last year's general election.

But board officials say the county has to eventually move toward electronic voting and now appears to be a good time, Sciortino said.

The company chosen by the board would probably be paid in installments over a two- to three-year period, Sciortino said. The contract also would require locked-in prices for maintenance and upgrades, he said.

skolnick@vindy.com




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