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Ohio Officials Begin Voting Machine Fight


Associated Press   09 February 2005

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Ohio's attorney general and its secretary of state launched a dispute over voting machines on Tuesday, the day before counties are required to submit their machine choices.

Attorney General Jim Petro issued a written opinion Tuesday saying Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell did not have the authority to order counties to use one type of voting machine. Petro said the choice is up to the counties.

Blackwell said the statement Tuesday contradicted what Petro told him in the past. Carlo LoParo, a spokesman for the secretary of state, said Blackwell's order last month requiring elections officials in Ohio's 88 counties to pick between two types of optical-scan machines "carries the weight of law, and he expects that to be complied with."

Blackwell and Petro are seeking the Republican nomination for governor.

Forty-three counties had submitted their voting machine choice as of Tuesday. Blackwell will send staff to the counties that do not comply by Wednesday, and those that can't decide on a machine will have one chosen for them, LoParo said.

Petro said the federal law phasing out punch-card ballots allows county elections officials to choose between optical-scan machines, which read marks on paper ballots, and electronic touch-screen systems that create paper receipts for voters.

Blackwell has said optical scan is the only affordable option to meet the paper receipt requirement, but Petro said Blackwell "can't substitute his judgment for the county boards' authority."

Franklin County, which uses touch-screen machines, asked Petro whether Blackwell had the right to issue the order.

County elections officials expressed frustration with the conflicting messages.

"It seems like we're kind of mired down in this debate over who has authority, and meanwhile the clock keeps ticking," said Keith Cunningham, director of the Allen County elections board.

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