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Fighting escalates over money for voting machines



Published: Thu, September 7, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



'These childish games have to stop,' the auditor says.

By DAVID SKOLNICK

VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- The fight among Mahoning County officials over paying about $450,000 to its voting machine provider is escalating with name-calling and accusations that the battle could cause an Election Day disaster.

County Commissioners Anthony Traficanti and David Ludt are refusing to pay the elections board bill. That's because county Auditor Michael Sciortino, the former elections board director, won't write a $75,000 check to pay for the county's purchase of the Oakhill Renaissance Center.

The property purchase comes with more than $1 million worth of debts, Sciortino said.

Election Systems & amp; Software is owed the money toward the 2004 purchase of voting machines compliant with the federal Americans With Disabilities Act as well as maintenance contracts for the past two years.

The Nebraska-based company won't do business with the county until the bills are paid.

A number of the county's voting machines need to have their batteries replaced because they've met their useful life. Without the batteries, numerous voting machines won't be useable Nov. 7, elections board officials say.

Playing politics?

The elections board can have its money once Sciortino writes the check for Oakhill, Traficanti said.

Traficanti said Sciortino is playing politics with the Oakhill money.

"He's not recognizing the commissioners' authority," Traficanti said. "He should come to a staff meeting and explain this to the commissioners. He's saying one thing for one issue and something else for the other issue."

Sciortino said he has legitimate concerns about the county's purchase of Oakhill and won't sign the check until those questions are answered.

Also, Sciortino said he is "disgusted" by Traficanti, Ludt and county Administrator George Tablack, the county auditor when the election machines were purchased, for stonewalling the election equipment payment.

"These childish games have to stop," Sciortino said.

In anticipation of a huge voter turnout in the November 2004 election, something that occurred, Sciortino authorized the purchase of the 312 ADA-compliant machines.

At the time, the county had a verbal commitment from the Ohio secretary of state that money from the federal Help America Vote Act would pay for the machines, Sciortino said. That money was paid to the county earlier this year.

But the county used that money to pay a portion of a loan it borrowed in 2005 to keep operating after voters rejected county sales tax renewals, Sciortino said.

The elections board, Traficanti and Sciortino have asked county Prosecutor Paul J. Gains for a legal opinion on the voting machine payment issue.

Gains and Tablack couldn't be reached Wednesday to comment.

"The consequences of not paying this money is disastrous for the county," Sciortino said. "Without the batteries, there won't be an election. It's crazy to put Mahoning County in this position."

Traficanti said Sciortino and others are using scare tactics to get the money now from the commissioners, and there won't be a problem with the November election.

skolnick@vindy.com




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