TRUMBULL COUNTY Board still out on voting system



A board member can't see the rush, saying neither vendor is really prepared.
WARREN -- The Trumbull County Board of Elections will try to get more cost information on competing voting systems before it chooses a vendor.
The board will have to act quickly to meet a May 24 deadline to inform Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell of its preferred voting system among those certified by the state. Its members met Monday and will meet again Thursday.
Although the federal government, through the state, is paying about $2 million for the county's new voting system, Ohio counties will still have costs including printing, records storage and demands on personnel.
Unknown costs
"I think we need to talk to somebody that has these costs, these hard numbers," said board member Craig Bonar.
Rokey W. Suleman II, elections board deputy director, said some of these costs from one vendor, Diebold Election Systems of North Canton, are not known. "I've asked them, 'How can we make a decision if you're not giving us the costs?'" he said.
Also, he believes the county may need more voting machines than the state says are needed -- as many as 809 compared with 766, an added cost that county commissioners would be asked to fund.
As for the other vendor, Election Systems & amp; Software, Suleman said he will make a hasty inquiry.
Trumbull County wasn't able to switch to electronic voting machines for the November election because of Blackwell's concerns about the machines' security. That was the third time Blackwell postponed implementation of the Diebold machines in Trumbull County.
Paper trail
Thirty-one counties had originally planned to replace their machines for last year's election, but most backed out as the election drew closer. Most of those counties, like Trumbull, use punch-card ballots.
Bonar said he's not comfortable with the performance of the county's current system.
The federal Help America Vote Act requires counties by the 2006 primary to use federally approved voting systems and to have policies for counting provisional ballots in place.
The state Legislature passed a bill about a year ago requiring a paper trail for all voting systems. Only Diebold received certification for touch-screen systems with a paper record.
ES & amp;S developed a paper trail system for its electronic machines that wasn't certified by the state until Friday. Bonar said the local board should get all of the costs it can from both vendors, despite "these 11th-hour changes."
Running out of time
Myke Clarett, field representative for the Ohio Secretary of State's office, told the board that both are good systems and that Trumbull County won't wind up with a "white elephant" whichever way it goes.
Long-time board member Nettie Ashelman said she "can't see the rush in this, because they're not prepared really, either one of them."
If no decision is made by the deadline, Diebold's optical scanner system will be chosen by default.
Both vendors offer optical scan and direct recording (touch screen) electronic systems.
Blackwell had ordered elections officials in all 88 counties to pick their preference of two types of optical-scan machines, which read marks voters make on paper ballots. He has said that optical scan in the only affordable option to meet a federal requirement that voters have a paper receipt to check their ballot choices.
Lawsuit
Several boards have complained that Blackwell has eliminated the choice of electronic touch-screen machines from the federal program that will pay for the new equipment. Election Systems & amp; Software filed a lawsuit earlier this month in Franklin County Common Pleas Court against Blackwell. Mahoning County had the optical scan system before May 2002, and now has joined ES & amp;S in the lawsuit.
ES & amp;S of Omaha, Neb., wanted Blackwell to extend the deadline for certification of electronic touch-screen voting machines that can produce a paper trail. Mahoning was among the first counties in the state to use the technology. Allen, Franklin, Sandusky and Hamilton counties also joined the lawsuit.
"Now that they [ES & amp;S] have gotten their machines certified, I think the lawsuits will be moot," Suleman said.

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