Back-to-future voting system had inauspicious beginning

It was 9:26 p.m., almost two hours after the polls closed Tuesday in Ohio, that the problems with Mahoning County’s new (old) paper ballot voting system became glaringly clear — not only to county residents, but to the nation. That’s because Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted’s office was keeping a county-by-county running total of the votes cast on State Issue 2/Senate Bill 5, allowing reporters around the country to follow the path of the highly controversial collective bargaining reform law.

On election night, the site operated by the Husted’s office was being regularly updated with the percentage of precincts in each county reporting votes cast on Issue 2, along with the vote totals in the counties.

Thus at 9:26 p.m. — the polls closed at 7:30 p.m Tuesday — the site showed Mahoning County’s vote total from only 7 percent of the 277 precincts; Trumbull County’s vote came from 40 percent of its 211 precincts; Columbiana County, 83 percent of 89 precincts; and, Ashtabula County, 57 percent of 127 precincts.

Why was Mahoning County so slow in counting votes and submitting reports to the secretary of state’s office?

Obviously, the return to paper ballots from the touch-screen voting system that had been in use for nine years did not go as smoothly as elections officials had hoped.

The county is leasing 140 optical-scanner machines to count paper ballots from Election Systems & Software of Omaha, Neb., the company that sold the county the touch-screen system in 2002. The $792,257 lease cost will be paid over six years with the county owning the machines after the last payment.

It is noteworthy that in January 2008 elections board members argued that it was easier to tamper with paper ballots than the touch screens.

In September when the commissioners, at the urging of the board of elections staff, agreed to switch systems, we asked in this space: “Has the technology improved to such an extent in the three years and eight months that those responsible for conducting honest, fair and efficient elections can win over a suspicious public?”

Based on the intermitable delays in reporting Tuesday’s election results, the board of elections has more explaining to do.

A question

In a brief story published Wednesday, The Vindicator provided an explanation for what went wrong election night, but this question remains to be answered: Did no one anticipate the problems inherent in having a process whereby the ballots cast at the polling places are fed into optical scanners on site with poll workers then having to make three printouts of the vote tallies? In Mahoning County’s first experience with paper ballots more than a decade ago, the paper ballots were transported in locked boxes to the board of elections headquarters where they were fed into the optical scanners.

In pushing for the switch from the touch-screen voting system to the paper ballots, board of elections officials contended that they weren’t confident that the touch screens would stand up to the pressures of a presidential election in 2012..

Given Tuesday’s performance, can they guarantee a flawfless election next year?

Contrast what occurred in Mahoning County with Trumbull County’s performance Tuesday. The touch-screen system worked so well that an elections official said they will have many more years of use before being replaced.

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