County becomes part of lawsuit



Mahoning is among five counties in the lawsuit.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County has joined the company that provides its electronic voting machines in a lawsuit against the Ohio secretary of state.
Election Systems & amp; Software filed a lawsuit earlier this month in Franklin County Common Pleas Court against J. Kenneth Blackwell, whose job includes being the state's election boss.
The company, based in Omaha, Neb., wants Blackwell to extend today's deadline for certification of electronic touch-screen voting machines that can produce a paper trail.
ES & amp;S has provided voting equipment to the Mahoning County Board of Elections for about 22 years.
The first 18 years were paper ballots with votes read by optical scanners. The county switched to electronic touch-screen machines in 2001.
Mahoning was among the first counties in the state to use the technology, and its elections board received praise numerous times by Blackwell for being "pioneers" in voting systems.
Judge Dale Crawford, who is hearing the case, questioned if ES & amp;S had the proper standing to file the suit so the election system company asked various counties to join the lawsuit.
Others
Besides Mahoning, Allen, Franklin, Sandusky and Hamilton counties joined the case. Mahoning joined Thursday during an emergency meeting of its elections board.
Blackwell selected today as the deadline for vendors to complete all certifications necessary to be used by Ohio's 88 counties. The counties have until May 24 to inform Blackwell of their preferred voting system among those certified by the state.
The federal Help America Vote Act requires counties by the 2006 primary to use voting systems that meet new federal guidelines, something Mahoning's touch-screen system does.
ES & amp;S officials say Blackwell's time line is arbitrary, and was announced only a month ago. Blackwell calls the lawsuit "nothing more than a final shot of desperation by a company that knows its time has run out."
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.
Watched a demonstration
Mark Munroe, Mahoning elections board chairman, said he viewed a Monday demonstration of the Diebold machines, and the equipment couldn't print a complete paper record. Also, the Diebold electronic system hasn't been certified by the National Association of State Election Directors.
The complete paper record and the certification are required by state law.
ES & amp;S is developing a paper trail system for its electronic machines, and should have it done by July, Munroe said.
Diebold and ES & amp;S are certified by the state to provide paper ballots to counties.
Unless the lawsuit is successful, Mahoning will have to give up its touch-screen machines and return to paper ballots, something its board and officials oppose.
Mahoning spent nearly $3 million on the electronic voting machines. If it is forced to change systems, the state will pick up the tab for the new system through federal money it received for that purpose, Munroe said.
But the county elections board had been told that it would get reimbursed for the money it spent on the electronic system, Munroe said. If the county has to change its system, it won't get that reimbursement, he said.
skolnick@vindy.com

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