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Published: Thursday, 2/26/2004

Flaw forces elections board to reprint 150,000 ballots

BY GEORGE J. TANBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Lucas County Board of Elections will reprint about 150,000 primary election ballots because of an error in the database used to lay out the forms, elections board officials said.

They said the company that designed the program and is supplying the optical scanner voting machines that will be used in Tuesday s election, Diebold Election Systems, Inc., of McKinney, Texas, will pay for the reprint.

“It s their system,” said Joseph Kidd, the elections board s executive director. “They supervised us and double-checked our work.”

Diebold officials don t agree.

“I can assure you there is no error in our database,” said Mickey Martin, Diebold s northeast sales manager. He suggested the information may have been entered into the system improperly. “I d venture to say it s human error, but whose error, I don t know.”

Mr. Martin said he was not aware Diebold had agreed to pay for the new ballots but said it s possible the company would do so even if it turns out not to be Diebold s fault.

The error, which caused mistakes in precinct committeeman races on absentee ballots in 14 of the county s 495 precincts, was discovered Monday by Larry Loutzenhiser, elections board supervisor.

Mr. Kidd said errors were inconsequential on 10 of the ballots, but on four ballots, the election outcome could have changed.

In all, 69 absentee ballots containing errors have been mailed. Mr. Kidd said those voters have been told of the problem, and new ballots will be hand-delivered to them because of the tight deadline. Absentee ballots are due by 7:30 p.m. election night.

Opponents of elections board Chairman Paula Ross, who also is chairman of the local Democratic Party, voiced their concern about the errors and suggested Ms. Ross might be to blame because Mr. Loutzenhiser is one of her supporters.

“We are concerned about the integrity of the process,” said Bill Lichtenwald, president of Teamsters Local 20 and a member of the anti-Ross Coalition of Concerned Democrats.

About 600 Democratic candidates are vying for committeemen posts. If the anti-Ross group wins the majority of precincts, its members have said they will vote Ms. Ross out of office as party chairman when her term expires this spring.

Mr. Kidd, a Republican, dismissed Mr. Lichtenwald s charge against Ms. Ross, saying he and another GOP supervisor worked with Mr. Loutzenhiser on the ballot process.

Members of the anti-Ross group said they want to look at the new ballots to make sure there are no additional errors.

Said Mr. Kidd: “They can look at anything they want.”

Meanwhile, an aide to the Ohio secretary of state, who met with the elections board yesterday, failed to break the deadlock over their selection of a new voting machine. In January, Republicans Sam Thurber and Bernadette Noe endorsed Diebold s touch-screen unit, while Ms. Ross and Diane Brown, both Democrats, opted for Diebold s optical scanner, which will be used in Tuesday s election.

Ms. Ross and Ms. Brown support proposed state and federal legislation that would require touch-screen units to have a paper adapter that would aid voter verification and possible recounts.

“I would like to go to the touch screen, but I don t believe voter confidence is there yet,” Ms. Brown said.

Mr. Thurber does not support the measure, calling it costly and unnecessary.

Dana Walch, state director of election reform, said machines made by Diebold and two other companies have passed rigorous security tests. Some faults were uncovered, he said, so the machines will be recertified before the state s orders are complete.

The federal government has given the state about $127 million to buy the machines, train poll workers, and educate voters on how to use them.

If the elections board can t break its deadlock, Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell has the authority to do so.



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