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Ohio Legislative Committee Wants Paper Backup for Touch-Screen Voting Machines

By Susanne Cervenka, Dayton Daily News, Ohio Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News


Apr. 8COLUMBUS, Ohio - A state legislative committee reviewing voting security wants Ohio to rebid its vending contracts so that each touch-screen machine has a paper backup.

After a month of debate, the Joint Committee on Ballot Security sent recommendations to Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell and the General Assembly, including one that requires the voter-verified paper audit trails by Jan. 1, 2006.

The committee wants to void contracts worth $128 million Blackwell has with vendors and rebid them after new standards are put in place.

State Sen. Jeff Jacobson, R-Butler Twp., called the voter-verifiable systems "a better way to proceed."

"Voters will be better served as they know that their vote is being recorded accurately," said Jacobson, one of the committee's catalysts.

He, along with state Sen. Teresa Fedor, D-Toledo, called for the formation of the committee because of concerns about the security of new voting machines, a part of federal election reform called the Help America Vote Act.

State Sen. Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green, was the committee dissenter on the paper-trail systems. He said the technology is still in its beginning stages.

If the General Assembly takes the committee's advice, Ohio would become the first state to purchase and use the voter-verified systems.

Because Ohio would be a frontrunner in the new technology, the recommendations called for another legislative committee to further examine the voter-verified systems.

"If we are going to be the first state to go out on the limb, we should continue to scrutinize the decision," said state Sen. Kevin Coughlin, R-Cuyahoga Falls.

Marketing director Mark Radke of Diebold Election Systems, the vendor ed for Montgomery County and many other counties in the state, said the recommendations would unnecessarily "restrict the easy access to voting that most people take for granted."

He said more than 9 million used the Diebold machines on March 2 without any problems.

Still, the company will meet any standards lawmakers establish for the machines, he said.

Blackwell's office has maintained that the touch-screen voting machines are secure and adding a paper trail isn't necessary. But Blackwell is keeping quiet on the recommendations for now.

"Secretary Blackwell will not comment on today's recommendations until he has an opportunity to review those recommendations and discuss them with Senate President (Doug White, R-Manchester), chairman Gardner and other appropriate parties," Blackwell spokesman Carlo LoParo said.

White and House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, are also reviewing the recommendations, their spokesmen said.

Counties would be allowed to buy and use the touch-screen machines in 2004 elections without the voter-verified system if they wanted. But they would have to retrofit their machines to the voter-verified systems and pay for any additional costs over the price of "factory-installed" audit systems.

What happens to the committee's recommendations are unclear. They could be incorporated into a bill already pending in a Senate committee or disregarded, Jacobson said.

"We're only 10 members of the General Assembly," he said. "It's possible that 122 and the governor, don't forget might disagree."

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