A last-ditch effort by Democrats to stop touch-screen voting machines from being purchased for use in Toledo and Lucas County is heading for an expected defeat next week.
State Sen. Teresa Fedor and Rep. Peter Ujvagi asked the Lucas County Board of Elections yesterday to halt its effort to purchase electronic touch-screen voting machines for the November election. The lawmakers are urging the board to instead deploy the optical-scan machines that were used in the troubled March 2 vote.
The two Democrats - who arranged for about two dozen people to protest at yesterday's meeting - told the board during its meeting at Government Center they believe the county should delay the purchase of touch-screen machines until they can be fitted with printers that allow voters to see a paper copy of their completed ballot before they actually cast their vote.
Touch-screen technology "is not developed enough and reliable enough to count on," Ms. Fedor told the board.
Elections Board Chairman Bernadette Noe countered that the fear of touch screens is "a self-induced panic."
The local board split 2-2 in January on whether to buy touch-screen machines, with Democrats Paula Ross and Diane Brown voting against touch-screen machines and GOP board members Ms. Noe
and Sam Thurber voting for the new technology. Republican Secretary of State Ken Blackwell broke the tie, siding with local Republicans to purchase touch-screen voting machines for Toledo and Lucas Country.
The county was poised to buy touch-screens from Diebold Elections Systems of McKinney, Texas, but a new state election reform law, signed by Gov. Bob Taft on Friday, requires the county to reaffirm its decision with a second vote. If Democrats and Republicans on the local election board vote as they did in January, and Mr. Blackwell sides again with the GOP - as he is expected to do - county voters will cast their ballots this November on ATM-style voting machines.
The new state election reform law allows counties to purchase touch-screen machines now, but requires them to be retrofitted to produce paper receipts that voters can inspect by the May, 2006, primary election. That retrofit would be paid for by the state government.
The issue the elections board will have to deal with when it meets to vote next Wednesday may come down to a question of money, Ms. Noe said.
She said that while the county was allowed to use optical-scan voting machines at no cost in the March primary and in two earlier elections, Diebold - which owns the machines - has said it would charge Lucas County nearly $350,000 to lease them for the November general election. Ballot printing costs and expenses associated with hiring and training poll workers could drive the cost of the election to about $700,000, far more than any past election.
If the election board votes to purchase the touch-screen voting machines, the estimated $4 million cost will be paid for by the state using federal money. Ms. Noe said the federal money cannot be used to lease voting machines, only to buy them.
"What frightens me is not just the $350,000 to run the election in November, but also the two other elections in 2005," Ms. Noe said. "So now we are talking about $1.1 million" just to lease equipment that would have to be paid for by the county.
"When you contrast that with federal money to purchase touch-screen machines and state money to retrofit them [with voter-receipt printers later on], you have zero out of pocket [for Lucas County] versus $1.1 million. I am staggered by it all," she said.
Ms. Ross said the $350,000 Diebold quote is not detailed enough for her to make a judgment about its value.
"We have to know what that includes. How many people? How much training? How much of that covers costs that we would otherwise have to do?" she said.
Mr. Ujvagi remained adamant about the need for Lucas County to use optical scan equipment this fall, but, he said, the Diebold quote was too high.
"Give me a break," Mr. Ujvagi said. "That is unacceptable. They should not be taking advantage of taxpayers like that."
He said the county should talk to other vendors.
Democrats have opposed touch screen voting since Diebold Chairman Wally O'Dell raised tens of thousands of dollars for the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign and pledged to help President Bush win Ohio in the November election.
Diebold is the leading electronic voting machine firm in the country.
In other matters, the elections board hired lawyer Jill Kelly as deputy director of the elections board, replacing Joe Kidd, who was terminated last month after what the board cited as his "disengagement" from day-to-day operations of the elections board.
Ms. Kelly, 52, accepted the post yesterday. An assistant county prosecutor, she is a graduate of the University of Michigan and the University of Toledo College of Law. She begins May 24, and will be paid $65,662 a year.
"We are putting someone in there who will absolutely conduct that office by the letter of the law," Ms. Noe said. "She is someone who has been sworn to meet statutory obligations for years."
The office has been plagued with problems both in the administration of elections - especially the March 2 primary - and in meeting provisions of Ohio election law.
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A last-ditch effort by Democrats to stop touch-screen voting machines from being purchased for use in Toledo and Lucas County is heading for an expected defeat. State Sen. Teresa Fedor and Rep. Peter Ujvagi asked the Lucas County Board of Elections yesterday to halt its effort to purchase electronic touch-screen voting machines for the November election.