Thursday, February 15, 2001

Voting diversity likely to stay


Ohio officials stress uniform rules, not machines

By Liz Sidoti
The Associated Press

        MOUNT STERLING, Ohio — Depending where they live, Ohio voters use electronic touch-screens, fill-in-the-bubble ballots, lever machines or the punch-card ballot design that caused so much trouble in Florida during the presidential election.

        The diversity in voting devices doesn't seem likely to change anytime soon.

        Elections officials and political scientists debated ways to improve the state's elections system Wednesday during Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell's elections summit. One thing was clear — little support exists for requiring counties to use the same kind of voting machine.

        “I can't see it ever happening,” said Antoinette Szuch, director of the Lucas County Board of Elections in Toledo.

        “A uniform kind of voting is not necessarily the best direction to take. All counties have different needs,” said Jan Clair, director of the Lake County Board of Elections. “Counties need to have the capability to choose what's best for their voters.”

        Few states require that all counties use the same kind of voting machine. Most states, like Ohio, let counties decide.

        Of Ohio's 88 counties, 70 use punch cards, 11 use handwritten ballots, five use electronic machines, and two use lever devices.

        Mr. Blackwell said the concern isn't that all counties use the same device, but rather that the state have universal rules and standards for machines counties choose to use.

        “What we're looking for is uniformity in the standards, not in the devices,” he said.

        John Green, director of the University of Akron's Ray C. Bliss Institute for Applied Politics, said it's time to modernize the system, but said he doesn't think there will be one system of voting across counties anytime soon.

        “There are too many different players, too many different interests. I'm talking 30 or 40 years,” he said.

        In the meantime, Herb Asher, a political science professor at Ohio State University, said discussion likely will focus on updating state standards to require that one method operate uniformly across all counties that use it.

        Hamilton County Commissioner John Dowlin said he's worried counties would be left to pay for entire overhauls of their voting systems if the state required a uniform device.

        “I don't want to be in an unfunded-mandate situation,” he said.

        Funding is always a challenge when trying to improve elections, Samuel Gresham Jr., president and chief executive of the Columbus Urban League, explained.

        “We need to get into the technology age of the 21st century, but we cannot do it and leave communities holding the bag,” he said.

        Elections officials across the state agree that money for any improvements to local voting systems would need to come from the federal, state and county levels, Mr. Blackwell said.

       For more information: Ohio Secretary of State: http://www. state.oh.us/sos/
       

       



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- Voting diversity likely to stay
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