Just three days after Mahoning County Commissioner Edward Reese warned in a front page story in The Vindicator about the tough economic times that lie ahead, the county Board of Elections decided that the commissioners should spend almost $3 million on a new voting system. Taxpayers certainly would be justified in wondering if elections board members just don't get it.
Is a computerized voting system a priority for Mahoning County in this period of local, state and national economic crisis? We think not. Commissioners Reese, Vicki Allen Sherlock and David Ludt should take the elections board's request for a new voting system and use it as the foundation for a discussion about the short-term and long-term needs of the county.
Indeed, that's what Mark Munroe, chairman of the elections board, would like to see occur. Munroe says he and his three colleagues realize that the county can't write out a check for $2.9 million, the cost of the system that would be purchased from Elections System and Software of Omaha, Neb., but they would like the commissioners to understand the situation as it relates to the current paper-ballot system.
However, before a decision is made to spend any money on an electronic voting system, the county should determine what the fallout will be from the current state budget talks in Columbus, and they should see what may emerge from Congress with regard to the election reform bill. In our opinion, the only justification for an immediate expenditure of millions of dollars is if the board of elections states unequivocally in writing that Mahoning County will not have a voting system for next year's election unless the county purchases a new one. Munroe made it clear that he and his colleagues have not issued such a warning..
Budget talks: As Mahoning County braces for a loss in revenue, it could be hit even harder if Gov. Bob Taft, Senate President Richard Finan and House Speaker Larry Householder decide that the $1.5 billion budget general fund shortfall anticipated over the next 19 months will require deep cuts in non-mandatory spending. Such cuts could impact the funds local governments receive from Columbus.
As for what's going on in Congress, the House could soon be voting on a bill to overhaul the U.S. election system. The measure would provide $2.65 billion over three years to upgrade voting equipment, improve the accuracy of voter registration lists, train poll workers and enhance accessibility to polling places for people with disabilities, according to the Washington Post.
Punch cards: While one of the main goals of the congressional initiative is to replace punch-card voting systems, which were blamed for the problems in last year's presidential election, it is possible that Mahoning County could qualify for some of the federal money.
Just because Mahoning County isn't in a position to sign a check for $2.9 million to purchase the touch-screen computer voting system, it doesn't mean commissioners and elections board officials can't meet on a regular basis to explore whatever options may be available.