Ohio County To Replace Voting Machines

A basket full of memory cards, used to record votes made on electronic voting machines, at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections in Cleveland, Ohio. November 7 marks the first general election in which the county's 1 million voters will be using electronic voting machines, after an initial trial in May's primary wa smarred by delays, lost disks, and uninformed or tardy election workers.
AP Photo/Jamie-Andrea Yanak
Ohio's chief elections officer decided Friday to have the state's most populous county switch to a new voting system in time for the March 4 presidential primary.

Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner broke a 2-2 tie for the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, which deadlocked a day earlier on the issue.

She had been pressuring the board to scrap its $21 million electronic touch-screen machines for an optical-scan system, in which a computer scans ballots that voters fill out by hand. She issued a report last week citing security flaws with the current system.

"I find that the move to a high-speed central count optical-scan system for paper ballots for the March 2008 primary election is the best way to ensure a safe, reliable and trustworthy primary election," Brunner said in a letter to the director of the Cuyahoga board.

The county will lease equipment from Omaha, Neb.-based Election Systems & Software for about $1 million. That includes high-speed scanners to tally primary votes downtown at the board of elections.

"The question is no longer can we do this," said Jane Platten, the board's director. "The situation is we must do this and we must do it right."

One of the major jobs will be retraining poll workers.

Platten believes it won't be a difficult transition because this system will be more simple to use.

"They don't have the electronic devices to set up, it's more of a paper management system now," she said. "They're already used to using the optical scan ballots at the precinct. They use them for provisional voting and curbside voting if someone can't get out of their car."

Many voting problems were reported in Ohio in the 2004 race between President Bush, a Republican, and Democrat John Kerry, including the accuracy of vote totals in precincts using electronic machines. There were also complaints that larger counties like Cuyahoga did not have enough working machines to accommodate all voters, leading to hours-long lines at some precincts.

Kerry conceded the election after narrowly losing Ohio's 20 electoral votes.

CBS Affiliate WOIO reports that the consulting firm of ES&S lobbyist Tom Hays wrote a report criticizing the current electronic system.

The report damaged the commissioner's confidence, and gave a boost to his client's optical scan system.

ES&S was awarded the no-bid contract.

"Well, I think the only one who won yesterday was Tom Hays, the consultant for ES&S," Tom Coyne, a former election board chairman, told WOIO. "The voters are certainly not getting a superior system."

Cuyahoga County taxpayers will now have to eat $21 million spent on now-useless electronic voting equipment, and spend another $9 million to buy and maintain the new system.

Election workers now have less than 74 days to get rid of 6,000 pieces of voting equipment, obtain new equipment, and get trained before the primary.