Lucas County voters have finally seen the last of those rickety old lever-voting machines, and that is cause for celebration.
As county election officials replace the antiquated machines, circa 1964, with state-of-the-art touch-screen devices, they also must conduct an intensive education program to ensure that all voters know how to use the new technology before they go to the polls this fall.
The electronic devices probably will not pose much of a problem for anyone who has used a computer or an automated teller machine at the bank, but not all voters - especially the elderly - are computer savvy.
That's why it is necessary that board of elections personnel set up demonstrations wherever people gather this summer - senior centers, service club meetings, shopping malls, supermarkets, and the like - to acquaint the public with this new method of voting.
The education task is vital. Trying to show voters how to use the new devices after they arrive at the polls would be an invitation to disaster. It likely would result in delays and long lines and ultimately deter some people from staying long enough to cast their ballot. Today's busy and impatient citizens don't need any more handy excuses for failing to vote.
Touch-screen voting was introduced here on a trial basis in 59 precincts for a special Toledo City Council election in May 2002, reportedly without any problems.
After “significant failures” of the lever machines last November, the board of elections decided to finally abandon them for good. Now the board has chosen Diebold Elections Systems, an Ohio company, to provide the new system.
The federal government is expected to eventually pay the $4 million cost, but the money may not arrive until 2004. In the meantime, elections director Joe Kidd has wisely set up a schedule for phasing in the new technology that calls for at least two run-throughs prior to next year's presidential election.
Voters in Toledo's September municipal primary will cast ballots using a combination of touch-screen and paper ballots counted by optical scanners. The same equipment will be used in the November election and, if the federal money hasn't been channeled to the county by state officials, in the March, 2004, primary.
While touch-screen voting devices are reputed to be reliable, no voting system comes without the possibility of confusion and technical failure. The county's decision to shake any bugs out of the new equipment before the added pressure of the November, 2004, presidential contest is simply good planning.
New voting devices, however, are only part of the nationwide push to exorcise the demons of the disputed 2000 election in Florida. A strong effort at voter education is essential to make sure that all the votes are recorded and counted accurately.
Every election produces winners and losers, but the biggest loser should not be the vote count.