COLUMBUS - The Ohio secretary of state's proposal to return to paper ballots after a report raised security questions about electronic machines is not dead on arrival with the Republican General Assembly, the speaker of the House said yesterday.
But it remains unclear what the ultimate response will be and where the state would find the money to make major changes before the November presidential election.
"These recommendations are from the duly elected secretary of state from Ohio, and we're going to take them seriously," said House Speaker Jon Husted (R., Kettering). "That's the person who's responsible for running these elections and making suggestions. But we also have to listen to what people say about it and make sure we get it right. This would be a big change."
Gov. Ted Strickland said he believes concerns raised by the report deserve an "appropriate response."
"How we get from where we are to where we need to be, I do not yet know," he said. "I want to look at all the options. I want to talk to the secretary and our legislative leaders. I want to explore the potential costs. Then we'll try to make the decision that seems most defensible and rational given the circumstances that we face. It's a very troubling set of circumstances."
Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat, last week released the findings of a $1.9 million, state-commissioned study by academics and computer experts into Ohio's new touch-screen and optical-scan voting systems. Most of the machines were purchased in the last couple of years with the help of about $100 million in federal funds.
The federal fund was created in response to problems seen with Florida's punch-card voting system during the 2000 presidential election. At the time, much of Ohio was still using punch cards.
The Ohio review raised serious security questions about the vulnerability of the new machines to hacking and error, prompting Ms. Brunner to propose switching to paper ballots in some cases, consolidating polling places, centralizing vote counting, and allowing early voting by mail.
"What we have are a number of academics and courtroom analysts, and they apparently all reached similar conclusions that these devices, at least in their current configuration, are not trustworthy in terms of providing adequate security that, as the secretary says, does not even meet industry standards," said Mr. Strickland. "Well, we certainly should not consider our elections process to be of lesser importance."
He said he doesn't have the technical expertise to know whether the machines can be fixed. "Unless they can be corrected in a way that is verifiable by objective analyzers, I think they ought to go," he said.
The Brennan Center for Justice, based at the New York University School of Law, yesterday questioned whether Ms. Brunner's rush to implement her remedies could cause more problems than they would solve.
"These proposals may make voting systems less secure in Ohio," said Lawrence Norden, the center's counsel. "You have the new issue of transporting ballots, which could mean a long time between when votes are cast and when they are counted."
"These are just recommendations right now," said Brunner spokesman Patrick Galloway. "We know we're not going to be able to dictate what the solution is going to be for Ohio. It's going to be a bipartisan effort. The unfortunate thing is that people are jumping to conclusions and undermining the whole report. Ultimately, it's going to take legislative action to make these changes."
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