Companies now have until Nov. 1 to get their equipment certified by the state.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- The Ohio Secretary of State's Office plans to give 32 counties, including Mahoning, until Sept. 15 to select a voting system.
The agreement was reached Tuesday with the counties during a conference call, said Michael V. Sciortino, Mahoning County Board of Elections director.
The agreement is another step forward in allowing Mahoning County to keep its nearly $3 million electronic touch-screen voting systems, with some modifications, Sciortino said.
Election Systems & amp; Software, the company that provides Mahoning's voting systems, filed a lawsuit in May in Franklin County Common Pleas Court against Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell.
The company wants Blackwell to extend deadlines for certification of electronic voting machines with a paper trail, and for requiring counties to select a state-approved voting system.
In just the past few weeks, 32 counties joined the lawsuit.
Attorneys for the counties, ES & amp;S, and the secretary of state have held several negotiating sessions face to face or via telephone in an attempt to settle the lawsuit. Also, officials with Hart InterCivic, an Austin, Texas, company, want to have its voting machines certified by the state.
A hearing in the ES & amp;S lawsuit was set for today, but the parties agreed to push it back to sometime during the week of June 20, Sciortino said. The parties had planned to continue discussions today.
Also, secretary of state attorneys agreed to delay dates for the counties involved in the lawsuit to select a vendor from the state list of approved voting machines, and for the certification of those machines by the state, Sciortino said.
Both original dates have passed, and have been extended at least two other times.
The counties in the lawsuit now have until Sept. 15 to select a voting machine vendor, and companies have until Nov. 1 to be certified by Blackwell's office, Sciortino said. Before Tuesday's agreement, those deadlines were this week.
The state Legislature passed a bill about a year ago requiring a paper trail for all voting systems.
Only Diebold Election Systems of North Canton received certification for touch-screen systems with a paper record. ES & amp;S's paper ballot-optical scanner system was approved by Blackwell, but not its electronic system.
But ES & amp;S should have a paper trail for its electronic voting system by mid-July or early August, Sciortino said.
It is not known how much it would cost to add the paper trail to Mahoning's voting system, but Sciortino said he expects the state to pay for the change.
The state received money from the federal government through the Help America Vote Act to pay for most of the expense of new election systems for Ohio's 88 counties. The act requires counties to use voting systems that meet new federal guidelines by the 2006 primary.
ES & amp;S of Omaha, Neb., has provided voting equipment to Mahoning County for 22 years -- the first 18 years were paper ballots read by optical scanners, and electronic touch-screen systems for the past four years.
Carlo LoParo, a Blackwell spokesman, said he couldn't discuss the details of Tuesday's negotiation session.
"But it is our hope this issue will be resolved relatively quickly," he said. "We hope an agreement is reached soon. We've seen progress and expect it to continue."