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Ohio vote tallies ? a touch slow

By Angela Mapes   Fort Wayne Journal Gazette  10 November 2005

Technology got the better of some Ohio counties that tried new touch-screen voting equipment for the first time Tuesday.

Polls closed in Defiance County as they did across Ohio at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, but votes weren?t tabulated until 5 a.m. Wednesday. Joseph Tubbs, chairman of the county?s election board, said he believes the glitches can be worked out before the next election.

?These are not issues that we can?t overcome,? Tubbs said.

Defiance County was one of 44 Ohio counties that used new Diebold touch-screen voting machines. A total of 15,000 of the machines, which print a ballot inside the machine as do ATMs, were used statewide, according to the Ohio secretary of state?s office.

The machines have memory cards that must be plugged into an election board?s equipment to download results. According to Tubbs, Defiance County initially ran into problems when a memory card for one machine was incorrectly programmed.

Tubbs said it wasn?t clear whether the error was on the part of local election officials or Diebold, which had representatives on hand to fix the problem.

Defiance County also encountered a problem with its databases for absentee ballots, but that problem was also corrected.

In both cases, Tubbs said, no votes were lost.

Officials in Van Wert County said the process took slightly longer than the traditional punch-card system.

Van Wert County had partial voting results ? 21 of their 39 precincts reporting ? by 9:15 p.m. Tuesday. Final counts, which included absentee ballots, were available at the county?s Board of Elections office just before 10:30 p.m.

Board of Elections officials were counting and verifying about 80 provisional ballots Wednesday that were not included in Tuesday night?s totals, said Linda Stutz, Van Wert County Board of Elections director.

With the punch-card system, election results were typically available an hour earlier, by 9:30 p.m. The extra hour in results-reporting lies in the process, Stutz said.

Aside from about 20 paper jams throughout Election Day at the precincts, using the new machines was a smooth transition, Stutz said.

The county did, however, have some elderly residents who voted absentee to avoid using the electronic machine, Stutz said. The county had more than 870 absentee ballots.

Officials in Paulding County also expressed satisfaction with the new voting machines Wednesday.

?I think they?ll (the machines) be a positive experience for the voters the more they use them,? said Jan Commers, director of the Paulding County Board of Elections. She said her staff was done by 11:45 p.m. Tuesday.

Williams County stood out as one of few Ohio counties to continue using the punch-card system ? at least for now.

Cletus Radabaugh, chairman of the Williams County election board, said officials in the county have decided to use optical-scan machines from a different vendor.

The new equipment has just been certified, and the county hopes to have machines in place for the spring primaries, Radabaugh said. He said final tallies were ready about 11 p.m. Tuesday.

Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell said in a statement Tuesday night that the new machines were ?a great success.?

A spokesman for Blackwell said Wednesday afternoon that most issues with the new machines were due to human error and could easily be resolved for future elections.

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