The Lucas County Board of Elections began treading a familiar path yesterday when its four members again tied 2-2 on whether to buy touch-screen voting machines manufactured by Diebold Elections Systems of McKinney, Texas.
The matter now moves - again - to Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, Ohio's chief elections officer who is charged with breaking tie votes cast by county boards of elections.
The board agreed to formulate position statements reflecting their opinions by Friday, when they will be sent to Columbus. It is unclear when Mr. Blackwell will make a decision.
Republicans Bernadette Noe, chairman of the board, and Sam Thurber voted for the touch screens.
Democrats Paula Ross and Diane Brown voted against them.
"Once the tie vote and all corresponding information is received, the secretary and his election and legal team will review the material and will decide on a course of action," said Carlo LoParo, spokesman for Mr. Blackwell. "The secretary has three options in this matter: He can vote to break the tie as the fifth member of the board of elections by voting in favor of the Republicans; he can vote in favor of the Democrats, or he can send it back to the Board of Elections for reconsideration. At this point, it is too soon to say which course of action the secretary will take."
The board has tied on this issue before. In January, Ms. Ross and Ms. Brown expressed support for optical scan machines, while Ms. Noe and Mr. Thurber voted for the touch-screen units.
Unlike the January vote, the board didn't consider optical-scan equipment yesterday.
Ms. Ross momentarily offered a motion to do so, then withdrew it before the board could vote.
Because there was no vote on optical-scan equipment, Mr. Blackwell does not have the option of assigning optical-scan equipment to the county, Mr. LoParo said. He may only decide whether the county should move forward using touch-screen machines, should not move to buy new equipment right now, which means the county would have to lease voting machines for the November election, or he could send the matter back to the board.
"We've been very thorough and very diligent in our efforts," Mr. Thurber said in favor of the touch-screen units. He said he believes the Diebold system offers the "greatest amount of voter security." The system is familiar to county election workers, who have worked with the machines in the past, he said.
But Ms. Brown and Ms. Ross said they had unanswered questions about the security and costs of the units and were reluctant to move forward until their queries were satisfied.
Mr. Blackwell, a Republican, broke the January tie by siding with Ms. Noe and Mr. Thurber, which appeared to pave the way for the county to buy touch-screen units to comply with the federal Help America Vote Act, signed into law by President Bush in late 2002.
But the Ohio General Assembly then passed a bill adding the requirement that every touch-screen voting machine in the state include a printer that can produce a paper copy of a voter's selections for review before casting a ballot. Gov. Bob Taft this month signed the measure, which includes a provision that requires those counties moving ahead to buy new equipment this year to reaffirm the selection of their new machines with another vote.
That requirement triggered yesterday's repeat deadlock by the board.
"I don't want to vote on a whole system until we know how much it's going to cost to retrofit them," Ms. Brown said, adding that she'd really rather wait until Diebold could offer a touch-screen machine with a voter receipt printer built right in, not added after the fact.
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