Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Decision on voting machines delayed

By Erica Solvig
The Cincinnati Enquirer

LEBANON - Warren County commissioners are holding off on deciding which electronic voting machines they want, with the hope they could stay with the long-used punch-card system.

But state election officials say the county - and all others using the punch-card or lever voting systems - must eventually choose another system to comply with the Help America Vote Act. The federal law, signed by President Bush in October 2002, requires replacing those systems nationwide with methods that tell voters if they've made an error and give them a chance to fix it.

Commissioners on Tuesday were working under the impression that states had the option of switching, and were not mandated to do so. They instead favored keeping the punch-card system used since the 1970s, according to board of elections officials.

"I'm from the old school; if it isn't broke, don't fix it," Commissioner Larry Crisenbery said during a meeting attended by the Warren County Board of Elections.

Commissioners expressed several concerns with the new system, including the electronics' life expectancy and about how people would react to the change.

They are waiting for a report explaining what the federal requirements are before making a decision. That report is expected in about two weeks.

Every state using the punch-card or lever systems will have to replace them with a system that complies with federal law by the November 2004 elections, according to Carlo LoParo, spokesman with Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell's office.

Ohio is considering using the electronic voting and the precinct count optical scan systems, in which voters fill in bubbles on paper ballots then take them to a scanner. The state will announce this week which vendors fit both state and federal criteria for the machines.

Congress had set aside $3.9 billion for the change nationwide. If the act is fully funded, Ohio anticipates receiving up to $161 million, LoParo said. The state already has received $35 million to match the $5.8 million Ohio has set aside, he added.


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