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Local election officials may HAVA problem

By Matt Suman,  Seneca County Advertiser-Tribune   04 February 2005 

State elections officials say the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) will cover all costs except storage for precinct-count optical scan voting machines.
The Seneca County Board of Elections director said she heard otherwise at a Columbus conference last week.

James Lee, spokesman for Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, said storage is the only expense counties will have to pick up for the new equipment. He said the Blackwell's office will negotiate contracts with each vendor instead of allowing each elections board to do so.

"By (the state signing) the contract with each vendor, we make better use of the millions of dollars in federal grants," he said. Maintenance will be built into the contracts with the vendors."

Janet Leahy, Seneca County Board of Elections director, said at a Columbus conference last week, state officials were not sure if HAVA grant money would cover all of the hardware for optical scan machines. Leahy and Jane Sheeley, assistant director, went to Columbus last Wednesday and Thursday to see demonstrations from two qualified optical scan voting machine vendors.

The board will which vendor to go with Tuesday evening after the special election. Blackwell directed county elections boards to decide between two qualified vendors by Wednesday and said the new machines must be in place by the Nov. 8 general election.

Punch card ballots will likely be used for the last time in Seneca County for the May 3 primary election, Sheeley said.

Meanwhile, the Seneca County commissioners are looking into where the new equipment could be stored. They did not include any expenses for storage in the budget last Thursday.

Lee said each county's expense for storage should not be a significant difference from punch card equipment.

"They shouldn't really take up more room," he said.

Leahy disagreed. She said the handicapped accessible booths at each polling location will take up twice as much space as the punch card booths.

Leahy said the new ballot boxes are about four times the size the old ones.

Diebold Elections Systems or Elections Systems and Software are the qualified vendors to offer machines. The Diebold AccuVote-OS device costs $4,572 per unit while the ES&S Model 100 price is $5,499.

According Blackwell's website, Ohio has received $132 million in election reform funding. Blackwell decided to go with optical scan voting machines rather than electronic voting devices because, with the legislatively mandated paper audit trails, electronic machines exceed available funding.

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