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|03-03-03: Area voters may get touching experience
|By SEAN RICE
The Daily Standard
There shouldn't be any hanging chads in Mercer County.
Voters here may be using new electronic voting machines by November, as
local election officials began previewing touch-screen voting machine vendors last week.
While the president's Help Americans Vote Act (HAVA) sets a deadline of
November 2004 for abandonment of all punch card ballot booths in the country, Mercer
County Elections Director Toni Slusser hopes to make the switch a year early.
"It would be a nightmare if we tried to use a new system for the
first time during a presidential election," Slusser said of the reasoning behind an
Members of the local board of elections, and boards from five area
counties, were invited to Friday's four-hour demonstration on electronic voting booths
from Sequoia Voting Systems, of Oakland, Calif.
Company representatives reviewed every aspect of using the Sequoia
system and the poll worker training required with it. The presentation is one of several
planned for Mercer and the surrounding counties.
Mercer County has 40 precincts and would need between 130 and 160 new
booths, for a cost most likely greater than $500,000, Slusser surmised.
The nationwide mandate to switch to electronic machines came after the
November 2000 fiasco in several Florida precincts where voters claimed to be confused by
the punch ballot and incorrectly voted. HAVA sets aside $650 million for the switch
nationwide and a list of rules to guide the mandated change. The first round of funding
allocates $30 million for Ohio's counties.
While Slusser would like to get a foot in the door early, no election
board in the country can access the federal monies yet, because administrative changes
have yet to be made, she said.
A regional representative for Secretary of State Ken Blackwell
confirmed Friday that President George W. Bush still needs to set up a commission to
approve plans from each state's election director. Also, Blackwell's office needs to
create a commission to approve the plans of Ohio's counties to be sent to the federal
Exactly how the switch will be handled across the state has become a
hot topic lately in northern Ohio.
Large newspapers in Cleveland and Toledo reported recently that
Blackwell's office took away the right of the counties to choose a voting system, by
telling Lucas and Cuyahoga counties not to make a large purchase of electronic voting
Slusser said the issue was misconstrued, and Blackwell ordered the
counties not to purchase new machines until the funding is settled and the secretary of
state can review the bids.
Counties are asked to continue reviewing electronic voting vendors and
share information with the state, Slusser said. Based on which vendors the counties
prefer, bids to purchase new machine will be approved by Blackwell.
The question that remains is if Blackwell will choose a vendor for the
entire state, or regionally assign vendors, or allow each county to choose.
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