Wednesday, February 28, 2001

Electronic voting touted

County officials at demonstration cool to idea

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Salesmen made their pitch to Hamilton County election officials Tuesday to spend $15 million to convert from punch cards to an electronic voting system, but the county wasn't buying.

        Not yet, anyway.

        Dick Fox and Joe McGinniss, two representatives of Election Systems & Software, an Omaha, Neb.-based company, demonstrated three electronic voting systems: One would keep the punch card in use, one would involve “optical scanners” and a third, automated teller-like touch screen would automatically record votes.

[photo] Joe McGinniss, salesman for Election Systems & Software, demonstrates a touch-screen voting machine to members of the Hamilton County Board of Elections on Tuesday.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
        Hamilton County Elections Director Julie Stautberg said the board of elections will invite other vendors to demonstrate their products, but said the county is unlikely to invest in a new system soon.

        “The punch-card system has worked fine for Hamilton County,” Ms. Stautberg said. “I can't see the county making that kind of investment at this time.”

        Replacing punch-card voting systems, which are used in 70 of Ohio's 88 counties, became an issue after last fall's presidential campaign, which saw a bitter legal battle in Florida over whether disputed punch card ballots should be counted.

        The ES&S officials showed Ms. Stautberg and other election officials three machines Tuesday:

        • An electronic voting system in which voters would touch spaces next to candidates' names on a small computer screen, thus recording their votes.

        • A piece of equipment that would scan punch-card ballots at the polling places and reject ballots on which voters had voted for more than one candidate in a race, giving voters a chance to cast new ballots.

        • An optical scanner for polling places that would read paper ballots marked by pen and reject ballots in which too many votes were cast.

        To equip all of Hamilton County's 1,083 precincts with any one of these machines would cost about $15 million, plus about $1 million for additional software for the electronic touch-pad system.

        “Any one of these machines would produce more accurate elections,” Mr. McGinniss said.

        County election officials in Florida have been ordered to replace punch-card balloting within five years. Ms. Stautberg said such an order from the Ohio General Assembly is unlikely, but said it is possible the state legislature could decide to help counties fund the change to electronic systems.

        A bill that would provide local governments with federal matching funds for replacing outdated voting systems is pending in Congress.

        “Until there is some help from the state or the federal government, I don't see it happening,” Ms. Stautberg said.

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