Tuesday, December 05, 2000

Ohio will review voting methods




By Spencer Hunt
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — In the wake of Florida's electoral chaos, Ohio's top elections official said he will look for ways to improve the state's voting methods and accuracy.

        On Monday, Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell said he will ask elections experts, legal scholars and lawmakers to come up with a list of reforms. The as-yet unnamed group would start work this February, after the presidential election is resolved.

        “We would never have the situation here that they have now in Florida,” Mr. Blackwell said. “We should at least take a step back and examine our electoral system to see just how reliable it is.”

        Mr. Blackwell's comments echo those of fellow election officials in other states. California Secretary of State Bill Jones, for example, already has 10 reform ideas he'd like to enact.

        John Y. Brown, Kentucky's secretary of state, will travel to Dallas on Dec. 14 to join colleagues from six other states on a national elections reform task force.

        “I suspect (the task force) would recommend that punch card voting machines be done away with and be replaced by more modern machines,” Mr. Brown said. “I think we would also encourage states to firm up and clarify any ambiguities in their election laws regarding recounts.”

        First used in the 1960s, punch-card ballots are at the center of the controversy in the presidential election in Florida.

        Also complicating matters are vague Florida laws governing how to read such ballots in recounts and the deadlines election officials must meet.

        Though Mr. Blackwell says similar problems are unlikely here, he also acknowledges most Ohio voting booths rely on the same punch-card system. That's one reason why he wants 14 to 20 Ohio experts looking at alternatives.

        “We need to look at the advantages and disadvantages of each system,” he said.

        Seventy of Ohio's 88 counties, including Hamilton, Butler and Warren, use punch-cards.

        Clermont County and 10 others use optical scanners to read blackened boxes next to candidates' names. Five other counties, including Columbus' Franklin County use electronic touch pads.

        Lucas and Hardin counties still use old-fashioned voting machines with levers.

        While lever machines are considered accurate and prevent someone from inadvertently voting twice, no one makes them anymore. Electronic touch pads also do not let people vote more than once, but they are expensive. The electronic machines are used in all but nine of Kentucky's 120 counties.

        It would cost $400 million to $500 million to equip all Ohio precincts with electronic voting devices, Mr. Blackwell estimated. Something like that might require state funding and a mandate from the General Assembly.

        In California, Mr. Jones already is asking the state legislature to fork over millions to improve polling technology. He proposes a $230 million “Democracy Fund” counties can draw on to buy better voting devices and software.

        Mr. Blackwell said he also wants his panel to examine Ohio laws concerning recounts and election certifications.

        He'd like the group to complete its work in February, while the issue of election reform is still fresh in lawmakers' and voters' minds. He fears election reform will fade over time.

       



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