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Published: Wednesday, 9/27/2006

U.S. audits vote-upgrade funds

BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - The U.S. Election Assistance Commission has launched an audit into Ohio's spending of federal funds to upgrade election systems.

EAC spokesman Bryan Whitener said the audit is routine and not driven by a letter from Samuel Gresham, acting executive director of Common Cause/Ohio, alleging misspending by Secretary of State Ken Blackwell.

"Ohio was selected for audit based on the amount of HAVA funds expended," Mr. Whitener said.

A letter from EAC Inspector General Curtis W. Crider noted that the audit already under way is examining how Mr. Blackwell spent the funds and whether the state has met its mandate to replace punch-card and lever voting machines.

Mr. Crider's letter indicated that issues raised in Mr. Gresham's letter would be considered.

"I think our allegations are finding an ear," he said.

Mr. Gresham alleged Mr. Blackwell expended HAVA funds for partisan purposes, using voter education ads to promote himself, steering county governments toward Diebold machines because he owned Diebold stock, and favoring supporters of his campaign for governor.

Blackwell spokesman James Lee said the office is cooperating with the audit, which he said is mandated for all states.

"The bipartisan [Ohio] controlling board approves HAVA expenditures," Mr. Lee said. "The [county] boards of elections were given the opportunity to choose the [voting machine] vendor they felt would best address their needs."

Mr. Blackwell revealed the stock purchase in his state ethics filing, saying he was unaware his money manager had included Diebold in his portfolio. He said he sold the stock at a loss.



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