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April 18, 2003

 



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Politics | Article published Friday, April 18, 2003
Counties to get say in vote systems Blackwell will set up Ohio guidelines, according to election reform

By
BLADE POLITICAL WRITER


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.

However, the state will write all purchase contracts and the checks to buy them, according to a new state election reform plan introduced here yesterday.

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.

Tom Coyne, 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.

"The [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 equipment.

"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.




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