Thursday, January 17th, 2008
By Janie Southard
Mercer County will switch back to paper ballots
  At this week's Columbus-based Conference of the Ohio Association of Election Officials, Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner recommended Ohio counties ditch their touch-screen voting machines by the November general election in favor of optical scans.
Price tag on this venture would exceed $31 million and some county officials have said "no way."
Mercer County Election Board, which has been using touch-screen voting systems for the past few years, will comply with her recommendation and make the switch to optical scan machines even earlier - for the upcoming March primary election, board chairman Del Kramer said in a telephone interview from the conference Wednesday.
Brunner's directive for the March primary is that counties with touch screens make a certain number of paper ballots available for voters who don't want to use the machines.
"As a board we are not in favor of two systems, which would make it confusing to voters and to poll workers," Kramer said. "We will not use touch-screen machines except for one at each precinct for handicapped voters."
Brunner said the state's touch screens have "critical security failures," based on the December results of the Evaluation & Validation of Election-Related Equipment, Standards & Testing (EVEREST).
Locally, there's never been a problem or security lapse, according to Kramer. The county has been using a touch-screen system that prints out a paper receipt for voters to look over.
"It's always come out perfectly, everything in order. I can't see why (Brunner is) so concerned. Is she trying to make a statement?" Kramer wondered.
Touch screens are what they seem: Voters indicate preference for an issue/candidate by touching a computer screen list. The vote is electronically calculated. The optical scan system, currently used in Auglaize County, is pencil and paper ballots that are scanned by a machine, which tallies votes on a paper printout.
Going to the optical scan machines will cost Mercer County almost nothing as the machines already are in house, so dollars are not a deciding factor. It's a different story in Montgomery County where they've recently spent $8 million for new touch screens and training for poll workers.
Brunner also announced this week she favors consolidating some polling places in various counties and keeping them open for 15 straight days of early voting in November.
"This has not gone over well (at the conference.) It would be just a nightmare to do and very expensive ... Consolidating voters is hard enough. People want to vote at the same place where they have voted for the past 25 years," Kramer said, adding absentee voting is almost the same thing as staying open for 15 days.
New laws for absentee ballots make it possible for voters to receive an early ballot and vote whenever they want via mail or dropping off the ballot at the election board.
"You can vote absentee for just about any reason you can think of," Kramer said.
The Mercer County election chairman credits many of the present voting problems to the Florida chad of a few years ago.
"I can't understand why did all of us have to react to a problem we never had but Florida did," he declared. "It's been a lot of money wasted."

The problem:
Voting systems: Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat, wants counties that use electronic touch-screen machines to switch to an optical-scan system, where machines scan ballots filled out by voters, by the November general election. For the upcoming March primary, Brunner is asking counties with touch-screen machines to make a certain number of paper ballots available for voters who don't want to use the machines.
What others are saying: The Ohio Republican Party has scheduled a private meeting of Republican members of boards of elections this week to discuss how the party will respond to Brunner's efforts, helping to create a partisan tinge to the voting reform debate.
What's next: The Republican-controlled state Legislature will debate Brunner's proposal, which carries a $31 million price tag statewide. Fifty-seven counties, including Mercer, currently use touch screens.
- Associated Press
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