State lacks funds for new voting printers
by Chuck Bowen
For The Post 09 February 2005
An Ohio-based maker of electronic voting machines has developed the technology that would allow it to sell its products to Ohio counties, but the Secretary of State's office said its decision to use another type of machine stands.
Diebold, Inc., based in North Canton, said it has developed a new, voter-verifiable printer that would meet requirements set by the Ohio General Assembly. The touch screen machines already have a printer that records each ballot, but the printout is not voter-verifiable, said David Bear, a spokesman for Diebold.
Prior to this development, Diebold's machines recorded each ballot cast, but voters could not verify their choices after they voted, Bear said.
The company was the front-runner to supply Ohio's 88 counties with electronic touch screen voting machines for the 2004 election. But in April, the state legislature mandated a voter-verifiable paper trail -not required by federal law -that made the touch screen machines too expensive to have at all of Ohio's polling locations.
Sec. of State J. Kenneth Blackwell in January announced the state's primary voting system would be optical scan, which works much like a standardized test and has a voter-verifiable paper trail.
"In light of high turnout (in the last election) and the need to have more voting equipment at each polling location, it was no longer economically feasible with federal money for our state to have electronic (touch screen) machines," said James Lee, a spokesman for Blackwell.
Carlo LoParo, also a spokesman for Blackwell, said before the legislature made voter-verifiable paper trails mandatory, each touch screen machine cost $3,000, at a total cost $106 million. The cost of touch screen machines with printers rose by 20 percent to $3,600 each -making the new price for all the machines $180 million.
Ohio only receives $132 million from the government to pay for voting machines and to ensure the state meets federal election requirements, LoParo said. The optical scan machines Blackwell backs would cost about $100 million.
Bear said he did not know how much the new printers would cost, but said Diebold would be marketing them to Ohio counties. "They won't be as ubiquitous as if they had used just touch screens of course," he said. To comply with federal law, each polling place must have at least one touch screen machine to aid handicapped voters.
LoParo said counties can choose any type of voting machine they want, as long as it meets the requirements in the 2000 Help America Vote Act. But if a county chooses to buy machines that are not optical scan, it forgoes all federal funding the act provides.
Susan Gwinn, director of the Athens County Board of Elections, said the county would not use the touch screen machines because they cost too much.
"There would be no way we would ever do that," she said. "That would be millions of dollars for Athens County. We'd have to choose a system that will get us money from the federal government. It's not happening."
For the 2004 presidential election, Athens County voters -like a majority of Ohioans -used punch card ballots, Gwinn said.
Blackwell has mandated that Ohio counties choose their vendor -Diebold or Omaha, Neb.-based Elections Systems and Software -by the close of business today.