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County won't have voting machines till primary in May  
By Nick Claussen 
Athens NEWS

Though Athens County won't have new voting devices this November after all, the voting process may be more complicated than usual anyway.

All counties in Ohio have to choose new electronic voting machines, and state officials originally hoped to have the new machines available to use by November.

The Athens County Board of Elections, in a controversial decision this summer, chose Election Systems & Software (ES&S) to provide the county with optical-scan voting machines. With optical-scan devices, voters simply fill in circles with pencils to choose issues and candidates and then the machine counts the ballots.

Athens County officials planned on using the optical-scan machines, instead of the traditional punch-card ballots, for the first time in the November general election. Election board members learned Tuesday evening, however, that no counties in Ohio will receive the ES&S optical-scan voting machines in time for the November election.

Sarah Spence, who represents the Ohio Secretary of State's Office, told the Athens County Board of Elections Wednesday that ES&S cannot complete all of the required training and educational programs in time for the November election. The Secretary of State's Office, meanwhile, has to check every machine before it's used, and will not have time to check them all before November. Because neither the company nor the state can complete their required duties by November, Spence added, the new voting machines are not being allowed until the May primary.

Susan Gwinn, chair of the Athens County Board of Elections, said during the meeting that she does not want to get into blaming anyone for the delay in the voting machines, and said the county will just continue with the punch-card ballots in November

Diebold Co. voting machines were delivered this summer to counties that ordered them, and those machines will be ready for the November election, according to Spence. Hocking County, for example, chose to use the Diebold electronic touch-screen machines, and those voting devices will be used in November.

Jackson and Gallia counties also will have the new Diebold voting machines, reported Dick Mottl, a member of the Athens County Board of Elections.

But while the November election will feature the old-fashioned punch-card ballots for Athens County voters, the voting process may be different than in past years.

Spence said that with five state issues that have a lot of ballot language, along with all of the local issues and candidates, counties may have to use two voting booklets.

With the current punch-card process for voting, voters receive their ballots, place them in the machines behind the booklets, and turn pages in the booklets while voting.

If Athens County has to use two booklets, local voters might have to switch booklets while voting, move their ballots between voting devices, or even use two different voting booths (one for each booklet) in November.

Penny Brooks, deputy director of the Board of Elections, confirmed that five countywide issues will appear on the ballot in November, in addition to the five statewide issues, and numerous city and township issues.

While the county Board of Elections does not know yet if it will need two booklets, the board members suggested that the county try to borrow extra booklets from Hocking, Jackson and/or Gallia counties, since they no longer will be using them. The board members do not want to pay for extra booklets, especially when this is the last time the county will use punch-card ballots, Gwinn said.

Spence said that state officials expect that with the five statewide issues, lengthy ballot language and all of the state and local issues and candidates, the voting process should take longer than usual in November. Spence said state officials also are expecting long lines again at polling places.

Despite the delay in implementing the new optical-scan voting machines, the Board of Elections put in an order for the machines on Wednesday. The county has to pay an additional $38,000 in addition to the federal and state money set up to pay for the voting devices for each county. The Board of Elections is hoping to store its new voting machines in the old Alexander Elementary building in Albany.

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