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Butler Co. asks AG to block optical-scanner systems

By Janice Morse
Cincinnati Enquirer staff writer  04 February 2005

HAMILTON - Butler County elections officials say changing to optical-scanner voting systems would be a waste of money - and they're asking the Ohio Attorney General to block the Secretary of State from forcing local elections boards into using that pencil-and-paper method.

The four-member Butler board today voted unanimously to ask the Attorney General Jim Petro to consider whether Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell has legal authority to impose optical-scanners statewide.

The Butler board also intends to ask Petro to whether Blackwell's directive meets the goals of the Help America Vote Act, which Congress passed to prevent recurrences of Florida's punch-card-voting fiasco in the 2000 presidential election.

To comply with that law, Blackwell has told elections boards in all 88 counties to choose an optical-scan system by next Wednesday - or he will choose the system for them. There are only two suppliers of optical-scanner voting systems that Ohio has certified to meet requirements of a new federal law: Diebold Elections Systems and ES&S of Chicago.

Hamilton County election officials were debating the issue today; Clermont County, which already uses an optical-scanning system from ES&S, decided to purchase an d system from that same company. Warren County's elections board will meet Tuesday, a day before Blackwell's deadline.

On Friday, Butler County Commissioner Michael A. Fox made an impassioned plea for the Butler board's action.

Fox said he testified to the board to highlight the absurdity of shelling out $3 million to $5 million to change Butler's current punch-card system which has worked smoothly - and to thwart plans to replace it with a higher-tech computer touch-screen voting system.

Fox blasted Blackwell's directive: "It created this political tsunami that affected the entire elections process."

Carlo LoParo, a Blackwell spokesman, said Butler is entitled to seek Petro's opinion. "They're free to ask (whomever) they would like." But, he said, "under their theory, the secretary of state wouldn't have any authority to implement the federal act at all."

While Blackwell had said he thought the optical-scanner system offered the most efficient and practical means to meet the federal act's requirements, Fox says the optical-scanning system could be fraught with more problems than the punch-card system it would replace.

"If a person is having difficulty punching a hole in a card, how in the world are they going to color in a circle?" he asked.

Butler elections board member Joseph W. Schwarz said the county only has two optical-scanning systems from which to choose - and he didn't like either one of them. Schwarz said he wanted the board to remain mute on a choice and to send a message to Blackwell: "If you want to put that on the people of Butler County, an inadequate system, you go for it - not us!"

But board Chairman Daniel J. Gattermeyer said he understood Schwarz's point. But Gattermeyer said that, if the county is going to be saddled with one of the optical-scanning systems, it might as be the one that the board prefers: Diebold Elections Systems of Canton, Ohio.

Begrudgingly, Gattermeyer and fellow board members John M. Holcomb and Judith A. Shelton voted in favor of the Diebold system; Schwarz voted against it.

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