Vendor's behavior should rile Blackwell
News-Herald Editorial. June 7, 2005.
There is something very, very strange about the way in which the hot button issue of voting machines is being manipulated in Ohio, and the manner in which Lake County is being treated by the Ohio secretary of state's office.
The county is virtually forced to stand by and watch its $3 million investment in voting machines go down the drain. And Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, who is in a position to do something about it - but apparently is too busy running for governor next year - absolutely refuses.
In one of the latest developments in the maddening saga, Lake County joined 31 other counties in a lawsuit which resulted in a Franklin County Common Pleas Court judge extending until Sept. 15 a deadline to a new voting machine vendor that provides a paper audit trail. The previous deadline of May 24, set by Blackwell, was totally unrealistic.
The two machines approved by Blackwell, Diebold and ES&S, provide the paper trail. Lake County's machines, Sequoia, do not.
Lake County bought the Sequoia machines in 1999. Since then, every election conducted here has been letter perfect. Interestingly, only two states other than Ohio - California and Nevada - require a paper trail. The other 47 states think it is unnecessary - and federal election laws do not require it.
Lake County election officials asked Diebold to demonstrate its product by conducting a special election in Willowick's Ward 3 on July 12, but the company refused, saying it wouldn't have time to train poll workers.
Elections Board Director Janet F. Clair called that refusal "amazing," since the county is able to train 1,000 election workers in a month.
Where is Blackwell throughout this whole ordeal - other than running for governor? Why doesn't he order the Diebold people to come to Lake County and conduct the election, which is for just six precincts?
Blackwell should be outraged by Diebold's refusal. If Diebold doesn't care enough to demonstrate its machines in Lake County, Blackwell should order it to do so.
Clair, never one to mince words, told Diebold, "I only believe what I can see, feel and touch. Your voting machine that provides a paper trail has never been used anywhere in the United States. You have no history."
The response she received, she reported, was, "We can guarantee it works." She was unimpressed. She - and the four election board members - want to see it work. But Diebold - and Blackwell - won't hear of it.
Sequoia officials told Lake County officials that given six to eight months time, they could retrofit the machines here to accommodate the paper audit trail.
The Federal Election Assistance Commission held hearings and recommended grandfathering current voting equipment and putting guidelines in place with "workable and reasonable timetables" because "there is too much at stake to expedite the process to meet artificial guidelines, while creating a risk of getting the outcome wrong."
Are you listening, Mr. Blackwell?
The phony need for a paper audit trail has never been explained. It has not been needed with Lake County's Sequoia machines. The requirement mandating it is one of the worst pieces of legislation ever enacted in Columbus.
Sequoia officials told county election officials, "We don't want to see you lose your investment," and made a commitment to retrofit the machines by early next year. The company already has a working prototype machine. Blackwell's reaction? "He didn't want to hear about it," Clair said.
The secretary of state's chief function - and obligation to the public - is to ensure Ohio has clean, honest elections. That is what Lake County has had with the Sequoia machines - perfectly accounted elections, with the very first reports in Ohio to Columbus on election night.
And Blackwell wants to change that by forcing a different brand of voting machine on the county? That absolutely makes no sense at all.
Blackwell has sole control over $106 million in federal funds to buy new voting machines. He wants to send $2.325 million to Lake County, which Clair says, "We don't need and we don't want."
"But by joining the lawsuit," she said, "we now have a choice between two vendors instead of having one vendor rammed down our throats."