By Sean Rice
Mercer County voters will not be using new touch-screen electronic voting machines on Election Day this November.
Instead, Mercer County Board of Elections members will decide by mid-July to use either classic punch-card ballots or the optical scan-type ballots, which were used by voters during the March primary.
Mercer County Elections Director Toni Slusser, who had been optimistic this county would be one of the first to use federally-funded touch-screen machines in November, advised board members to abandon the plan Friday .
"I do not believe any vendor will be ready by mid-July," Slusser said. "I would encourage you to do an optical-scan election in November."
Ballot preparations for Election Day need to begin locally by the end of July, Slusser said. With machine testing, poll worker training and other preelection duties, not enough time remains to integrate a new system. Added to the normal crunch of election preparations, the office staff may be short-handed next month as Slusser announced her resignation Friday and the deputy elections director, Diana Grile, is currently recuperating from back surgery.
Election officials had been leaning toward choosing the Ohio firm DieBold as the outfitter of the county's touch-screen voting equipment. DieBold and three other companies have received state and federal certification under the Help Americans Vote Act (HAVA) to market election equipment.
Electronic voting is being debated publicly across the nation as more and more localities are preparing to use federal HAVA fund to make the optional change by 2006. DieBold in particular has been under the spotlight after it was discovered a former co-owner supposedly vowed to "deliver" Ohio to President Bush. Claims of mechanical failures have been reported and opined in newspapers and magazines across the country about numerous new electronic voting equipment.
Mercer County poll worker Cheryl Davis expressed her concerns about the rush toward electronic voting. She provided the board on Friday with current examples of mechanical DieBold errors and possible security problems. A Champaign County resident active with Citizens Alliance for Secure Voting (CASE) also was present Friday to provide the board with information and "myth-busters" about electronic voting and HAVA, from the Web site VotersUnite.org.
Elections board members have set another meeting for 3 p.m. July 12 at the office in the courthouse.