Article published Friday, April 18, 2003|
Counties to get say in vote systems Blackwell will set up
Ohio guidelines, according to election
By FRITZ WENZEL
COLUMBUS - Ohio county boards of elections will
be able to select which electronic voting machine company they want
to replace existing lever or punch-card systems.
state will write all purchase contracts and the checks to buy them,
according to a new state election reform plan introduced here
The preliminary plan, issued yesterday by an
election reform planning committee assembled by Secretary of State
Kenneth Blackwell, puts to rest months of speculation among
elections officials about whether all 88 Ohio counties would be
forced to use machines selected by officials in Columbus, or whether
they would have some choice in the matter.
The plan calls for
Mr. Blackwell to establish "an authorized vendor list for deployment
of new voting equipment [and] will require vendors to include, as
part of their bid proposal, fund allocation that includes voter
education, election official education and training, and poll worker
training," the plan said.
Carlo Loparo, spokesman for Mr.
Blackwell, said yesterday that perhaps six or seven companies are
expected to meet state and federal requirements to sell voting
machines in the state.
"Counties will identify the system
they want from a list of approved machines and will then come here
to the state, which will write the contract and the check" to the
company, he said.
Although counties once had ultimate control
over their voting systems, the Help America Vote Act, signed into
law last year by President Bush, moved the responsibility for
elections from counties to a central elections figure in each state.
The law is part of an effort to avoid a replay of the 2000
presidential election debacle in Florida, where several counties
found themselves embroiled in such election controversy that the
U.S. Supreme Court was required to sort it out.
director of the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections and a member of
the state reform committee, said it is important that county "boards
should have the ability to have their own [technical computer]
support in place" to help when questions or problems crop up with
the new machines. He said centralized control of the machine
purchase process in Columbus might have prevented counties from
developing strong relationships with equipment vendors.
[voting] technology is not the big problem," he said in a meeting of
the committee here yesterday. "It’s the training and support that is
most important to counties."
Joe Kidd, Lucas County elections
director, earlier voiced similar concerns.
"We have developed
a relationship with many vendors. This hasn’t been just one
meeting," said Mr. Kidd upon learning about the plan last night.
"The free flow of information between election boards and vendors is
very important. Establishing who you trust to help you run your
elections is crucial. Your relationship with your vendor is not just
the exchange of a commodity, it is finding a partner to run your
local elections. This is great news. This is very positive.
Catherine Turcer, director of the public policy group Ohio
Citizen Action and also a member of the committee, said she is
concerned that voters are brought up to speed on how to use the new
"We have talked a lot about the requirements for
the new machines, but we need to talk about voter education," she
said. "The problem is, if you are one person and you’re
disenfranchised, it matters to you. Democracy doesn’t work when you
start affecting voters in a bad way."
The plan calls for
voting machine companies to prove to Mr. Blackwell’s office by Aug.
1 that their systems meet federal guidelines to qualify for state
and federal funding. County elections boards must notify the
secretary of state by Sept. 1 which system they prefer. The plan
predicts the state’s entire voting system will be replaced and
operational by Feb. 1, 2004.