State extendsdeadline forvote system
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- The Ohio Secretary of State's office agreed to once again push back a deadline for certain counties, including Mahoning, to select a voting system.
Mahoning County Board of Elections officials hope they ultimately will be able to keep the electronic touch-screen voting system -- with some modifications -- the county has used for the past four years.
Election Systems & amp; Software, the company that provides Mahoning's voting systems, filed a lawsuit earlier this month 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.
ES & amp;S expects to have an electronic voting machine that can produce a paper trail by August.
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.
Change in state law
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, whose executives contribute regularly to Republican candidates, 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.
Mark Munroe, Mahoning elections board chairman, has said he viewed a demonstration of the Diebold machines, and the equipment couldn't print a complete paper record.
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. But with the state law change, it doesn't meet Ohio's guidelines.
Blackwell said in order to be ready for next year's primary, vendors had until May 13 to be certified by his office for use by the state's 88 county boards of elections. He also originally gave the county boards until Tuesday to select a vendor, later extended it to Friday, and it is now June 3.
ES & amp;S then filed the lawsuit and 17 counties joined it.
Attorneys for the counties, ES & amp;S and the secretary of state's office met Monday in Columbus in an attempt to reach a settlement.
While no settlement was reached, the secretary of state's office agreed to the June 3 extension. Also, further discussions were to be held today. The next hearing on the lawsuit is set for next Wednesday.
Michael V. Sciortino, Mahoning election board director, said he is confident Blackwell will extend the deadline for voting systems to be state certified, and that ES & amp;S's touch-screen system will be approved.
If not, Mahoning will have to give up its touch-screen machines and return to paper ballots; something its 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 most of the new system through federal money it received for that purpose, Sciortino and Munroe said.