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New voting system in by November

By Justin McIntosh   Marietta Times   08 February 2005

The changes to Washington County polling places expected to prevent the voting disasters experienced in the 2000 presidential election will be ready for November's general election.
The decision to purchase new equipment comes after an early January directive from Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell that was sent to all county election boards in the state. The directive ordered all Ohio counties to start voting using optical scan systems.

While Washington County is one of 13 counties in Ohio that currently use the optical scan system, the county's system must be d because it's nearly 10 years old and does not allow voters to check their votes immediately after casting their ballots.

The changes will not be drastic for Washington County voters as they will still fill out ovals with a pencil. But when they deposit the ballot in the ballot box, the new equipment will immediately count the person's vote, informing the person if the voter failed to vote for an office or somehow mismarked the ballot. Previously, ballots were counted by the board of elections workers at their office on Putnam Street.

Daniel Parsons, 48, of 162 Woodland Acres Road, Marietta, said he's glad the changes are being made even if he wasn't concerned about a mistake with his ballot.

"I usually go over it two or three times to make sure I didn't miss anything," Parsons said. "But I can see where it would be a concern."

The Washington County Board of Elections decided at a special meeting this past Saturday to purchase new voting equipment.

The purchase of optical scan systems is a reversal for the state. Ohio's earlier plan allowed an option of electronic touch-screen voting machines as well as optical scan. Blackwell's directive told counties they must choose an optical scan system from one of two optical scan vendors by Wednesday, or his office would choose one for them.

The two available optical scan systems certified by state and federal officials are from Diebold Election Systems or Election Systems & Software. A third vendor, Hart InterCivic, has sued Blackwell over its exclusion.

Washington County chose Election Systems & Software, the same company they've dealt with for a number of years, said Becky Kirkbride, director of the Washington County Board of Elections.

"The board likes the system better and (the board has had) good experience with them in the past," Kirkbride said.

Under the federal Help America Vote Act, states must rid themselves of punch-card voting by November 2006. Congress passed the law in response to the 2000 presidential election, the outcome of which was in doubt for more than a month after the vote.

Even counties that already have optical scan, like Washington County, must replace them because they're outdated or their systems don't include required counting machines in each precinct instead of a central location.

Kirkbride said the new equipment will be purchased by the state of Ohio, but she questioned whether the state would fully fund the purchases.

"The question is whether all that money is going to be provided," Kirkbride said.

She also said she did not know the total cost of the equipment yet, but she expected each unit to cost about $5,000.

James Lee, spokesman for the Ohio Secretary of State's Office, said Washington County's equipment will be bought by the state and paid for in full.

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