Diebold to tally local votes
By David Laber
Athens NEWS Writer
Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell has chosen Canton-based Diebold, Inc., to provide Athens County its optical-scan voting system after the Athens County Board of Elections deadlocked on the choice in February.
On Feb. 9, the Athens County Board of Elections voted 2-2, with Democrats Susan Gwinn and William Lavelle voting for the Elections Systems & Software machines, and Republicans Howard Stevens and Dick Mottl voting for the Diebold Election Systems machines. Both systems operate with optical-scan ballots.
On an optical-scan ballot, voters fill in circles with pencils to designate for whom they want to vote, and then a machine scans in the results. The process is like taking a standardized test that's graded electronically.
As a result of the tie vote, Kathy Kyle, Athens County Board of Elections director, asked Blackwell to break the deadlock, which he did on Friday.
Blackwell's decision did not come as a surprise to Gwinn, who also chairs the Athens County Democratic Party, but now she said she wishes the elections board had not voted on the matter in the first place.
"My only regret is that we voted," she said. By voting and reaching a tie, the elections board opened the door for partisan Republican Blackwell to impose his will on the county.
Blackwell had said that every county in Ohio must switch to the optical-scan machines, and that each county can pick machines offered by either Diebold Election Systems or machines sold by Election Systems & Software (ES&S).
But the day before the Athens County elections board voted, Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro issued an opinion that Blackwell could not force counties to decide between the two machines.
When the elections board met to vote the following morning, Gwinn said, she was not sure how to take Petro's opinion, while Mottl said he thought the board should proceed with its vote.
Gwinn said she is not sure if there is anything she can do to appeal Blackwell's decision, but "there will always be another day."
In his opinion, Blackwell started by ruling that the Athens County Board of Elections vote was valid even though the matter was not introduced by way of a motion. Instead the board members performed a roll call in which each member announced which vendor he/she preferred.
Blackwell offered three reasons why he chose to Diebold over ES&S for the county. First, the Diebold machines are "easy to handle and store and... count ballots fast," Blackwell wrote.
Also, Diebold representatives have said they will provide adequate, timely training and support to the county, he said.
And finally, "many of your neighboring counties have ed the Diebold system," Blackwell said. "This will create a service area for the Diebold users, enabling the counties to network and to exchange ideas, and thus providing additional security and support for your county.
However, Gwinn said she is not aware of any neighboring counties that have chosen Diebold. "I believe every single county around us" did not choose Diebold, Gwinn said. "That (these other counties supposedly had chosen Diebold) was sort of the main point."
While Gwinn conceded that most voters will not know the difference between the two systems, she said handicapped voters will notice. Whereas the ES&S system uses a touch screen that will allow disabled voters to complete an optical ballot, the Diebold system uses a touch screen and records the results.
The difference is that with ES&S, "the touch screen acts as a pencil" for the disabled voter to fill in the ovals on the optical ballot, Gwinn said. Then the optical-scan ballot can be counted with the other optical-scan ballots.
With Diebold, the touch screen records the vote onto a separate cartridge, creating extra work for poll workers and " a greater possibly for error," she said.
"Poll workers already have a difficult time, and they only are doing this complex task twice a year and sometimes less," Gwinn said.
Now that the decision for Diebold has been made, Gwinn said the new voting machines probably will not be in place until the 2006 elections when voters will not have as many candidates from which to choose. This will allow for voters to familiarize themselves more with this style of voting for election years when more candidates are running.