ELECTIONS Mahoning Co. must replace voting system

Every county will have the new scanners by May 2006.
COLUMBUS -- Mahoning County will have to scrap its electronic touch-screen system that has been used since 2002 based on a statewide requirement announced by Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell.
Citing reliability, flexibility and exceptional value, Blackwell said Wednesday that paper-based optical-scan voting devices will be offered to county election boards as the state's primary voting system.
That means Mahoning County's $2 million system must be replaced. The state, however, plans to reimburse the county that amount, said Carlo Loparo, secretary of state spokesman.
By May 2006
Loparo said Mahoning County will have to discontinue its touch-screen system because every Ohio county will be using the optical-scan system that uses paper ballots by the May 2006 primary election.
The General Assembly required a voter-verified paper audit trail, and vendors of the electronic voting system used by Mahoning County have not established such a trail for the video system, Loparo said.
The state opted for the optical system because of its cost, Loparo said.
Ohio has received a total of $132 million in election reform funding to implement the optical-scan system in each of the 88 counties.
The state realized the electronic touch-screen system would have cost $185 million to implement statewide given the number of new voters that registered in the November election and a desire of having one machine for 150 voters, Loparo said.
The new optical-scan systems eliminate the requirement of matching actual machines to voter turnout models because voters mark paper ballots, which are then inserted into electronic ballot readers.
The ballot readers alert voters of over votes and electronically tabulate the ballot at the precinct as required by law. The actual paper ballot is then available for auditing and recount purposes.
Mahoning County used an optical-scan system for paper ballots before switching to the touch-screen system, but the system did not have the voters mark the ballots.
Loparo noted that the goal is to replace the punch-card system used by many counties for the November general election this year. Counties can continue using their current systems until the new optical scanners are installed.
Uniform statewide
Deployment of the optical-scan devices, which are compliant with the Help America Vote Act, will provide Ohioans with a uniform statewide voting system for future elections, Blackwell said.
"Precinct count optical-scan voting devices will allow more citizens to vote in an expedited manner while providing accurate, dependable and paper-auditable results," Blackwell said.
"We have a tight election reform deployment schedule, too few allocated federal and state dollars, and not one electronic voting device certified under Ohio's standards and rules. Precinct count technology just makes sense considering the flexibility it provides to financially constrained counties."
The County Commissioners Association of Ohio also believes the use of optical-scan voting devices is the only prudent and fiscally responsible way for election reform to continue in Ohio, said Larry Long, the CCAO executive director.
"Given the limited federal and state dollars that are available to meet the requirements of the Help America Vote Act, it appears the proposal to use optical-scan voting is the only way Ohio can comply with federal law without counties being required to pay for part of the cost for installing new voting devices," Long added.
Previously, the secretary of state provided county boards of elections with the option of selecting between electronic voting touch-screen devices and precinct count optical-scan systems.
Legislatively mandated
The cost of deploying electronic voting systems with legislatively mandated voter-verified paper audit trails, however, far exceeds federal and state available and anticipated funding in light of significant increases in Ohio's voter registration rolls.
Ohio has nearly 8 million registered voters -- an increase of about 900,000 voters since January 2004.
In addition, the precinct count optical-scan systems will simplify the countywide distribution of voting machines, Blackwell said. Currently, county election officials using electronic voting devices rely heavily on complicated voter turnout formulas to determine machine placement.
Vendors qualified to offer Ohio counties the precinct count optical-scan voting devices are Diebold Elections Systems and Election Systems and Software. Both vendors previously bid and agreed to contract terms with the state. Diebold will offer its AccuVote-OS at $4,572 per unit and ES & amp;S will offer its Model 100 at $5,499 per unit.

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