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Published: Saturday, 4/5/2008

Brunner's courage

ALMOST lost among the continuing presidential election buzz was the news last week that Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner has been selected as a recipient of the prestigious "Profile In Courage Award" from the John F. Kennedy Foundation.

The award, named for the 1957 Pulitzer Prize-winning book by the late president, is given annually for selfless exercise of political courage by elected officials. Ms. Brunner will be honored in a ceremony May 12 at the Kennedy Library in Boston for the risk she has taken to ensure that all the votes in Ohio elections are cast and counted in an accurate manner.

Elected in 2006, Ms. Brunner quickly became concerned about the reliability of electronic touch-screen voting machines. She commissioned a study last year that indicated the devices are subject to unnecessary risk of unexplained malfunction or, worse, being maliciously hacked, to the point that vote totals could be secretly altered or lost in electronic oblivion.

Her solution, to switch counties from touch-screen machines to paper ballots tallied by scanners, was successful in a trial in Cleveland in the March 4 primary. But her plan to convert the rest of the state has been met with strong opposition from lawmakers in Columbus who don't want to pay for the change, county election officials who don't want to be inconvenienced, and last, but not least, vendors who don't want to lose their lucrative contracts to supply the machines.

Most of this opposition is purely political. Republicans, who control the General Assembly, dragged their feet on a solution after the disastrous 2000 presidential election, when accuracy problems became evident with punch-card voting systems then in wide use.

Now, GOP officials are stalling again on finding the money to switch to scanner-counted ballots, which provide an easily tracked paper trail in case of discrepancies or recounts.

Needless to say, Ms. Brunner was not the most popular person at this year's meeting of the Ohio Association of Election Officials, even among her fellow Democrats. Her initiative is going to cost the state a lot of money and local election officials a lot of extra work as they scramble to make the switch before Election Day on Nov. 4. And it's already exposed her to a lot of political sniping.

But it's the right thing to do to safeguard the integrity of the voting process.

These days, strong leadership in the public policy arena is often viewed as taking people where they want to go. That's a mistake. Real leadership, as Ms. Brunner demonstrates, is taking people where they ought to go.



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