COLUMBUS - An Ohio elections panel yesterday certified the state's first and only touch-screen voting machine equipped with a paper-backup receipt system, despite the fact it had yet to win federal approval.
Certification for Diebold Election Systems' modified AccuVote TSX system came the same day competitor Election Systems & Software was in Franklin County Court of Common Pleas seeking an injunction to lift what it contends are arbitrary deadlines for machine certification and for counties to commit to buying machines.
"Up until now, it was required that you have a [National Association of State Election Directors] number [to receive state certification]," said ES&S spokesman Jill Friedman. "Today the board seemed to feel differently."
The ES&S court hearing will continue Friday.
Yesterday's vote by the Board of Voting Machine Examiners followed a series of shifts in direction from Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell and state lawmakers over how to spend $132 million in federal Help America Vote Act money.
Most counties last year had expressed preference for Diebold computerized touch-screen machines. But then the General Assembly intervened, passing a mandate that such machines be equipped with paper-backup systems for recount purposes and to allow voters to verify the accuracy of their votes before finalizing them.
Since no such system had yet been certified, Mr. Blackwell opted in January to take the touch-screen option off the table, ordering all counties to buy optical-scan devices employing paper ballots read electronically. ES&S picked up much more business for its optical-scan devices at that time.
Mr. Blackwell has since reversed position.
Diebold says its AccuVote TSS machine with "voter-verified paper audit trail" has passed all federal testing and will be assigned a formal federal certification number within days.
The company assured the board it can meet Ohio demand for machines for this year's general election. The negotiated price tag for the new machine would be $2,700 each.
"We have our own manufacturers located in the United States," said Mark Radke, Diebold's director of marketing. "We've ramped up before to do tens of thousands of units in a short time frame. We've got the capacity."
ES&S said it's in nearly the same situation as Diebold in terms of federal certification for its version of touch-screen voting with paper backup. But the state's timetable says machines must be certified by Friday and counties must make machine selections by May 24.
Diebold also convinced the board yesterday not to require that the entire ballot appear on the receipt voters receive in the polling booth.
Although Mr. Blackwell's rules appear to require that, Diebold said its system won't handle that many characters when it comes to reproducing often lengthy language of ballot issues.
At best, the receipt could handle the issue title and a short synopsis along with how the voter decided. The alternative, said Diebold, would be an extremely lengthy voter receipt that would take a long time to print.
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