The Lucas County commissioners agreed yesterday to spend nearly $2.4 million to pay for touch-screen voting machines, supplementing about $3 million in state and federal money to be spent on new voting equipment.
But their agreement is contingent on acceptance of the plan by Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, which is not at all certain, an assistant in Columbus said.
Local elections officials will have to wait at least several months to learn whether they will get the touch screens, or will be forced to buy optical scan equipment instead.
Touch-screen machines have been redesigned to meet new state guidelines that required the addition of a printer. The printer allows voters to see their selections on paper before casting votes, but Blackwell spokesman Carlo LoParo said none of the redesigned machines has passed a state inspection. A touch-screen system made by Diebold Election Systems of McKinney, Texas, is undergoing federal tests. If it passes, the state will examine it, Mr. LoParo said.
Lucas County has agreed to buy its voting equipment from Diebold.
An election reform plan written by the secretary calls for counties to have new voting equipment in place by Jan. 1, 2006. Mr. Blackwell had directed them to select optical-scan machines because of delays in certifying touch-screen units.
Franklin, Cuyahoga, and Portage are opposed to using optical scan systems and are fighting the Blackwell order in court. Lucas County officials opted to send a modified proposal to Mr. Blackwell that acknowledged the touch-screen machines may not pass inspection in time, and that the county may have to move forward with optical-scan machines.
Lucas County spent more than $200,000 to print ballots for the optical-scan system it leased for last year's elections, records show.
County Commissioner Peter Gerken said Monday he was pleased with the equipment."It's very user friendly. It's got a lot of features for both the young and the old, the handicapped and the impaired. I do prefer it to the optical scan machine. Paper costs, printing costs are certainly much less with this. It's a system that the voters of Lucas County would probably embrace."
The new printers on the touch-screen unit scroll a printed copy of the voters' selections behind a glass surface that allows the voters to see their choices, but does not allow them to touch or take the receipt.
After a voter casts a ballot, that paper receipt then scrolls into a secure container inside the machine, where it remains until the end of Election Day.
The paper ballots each include a bar-code of each voter's choices to allow for speedy electronic scanning in the event of a recount.
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