COLUMBUS - A panel established to study Ohio's election system as a result of Florida's presidential election woes failed to reach agreement yesterday as to whether Ohio has a problem.
The panel missed yesterday's legislative deadline to issue its report and will try again next week to determine whether to recommend that Ohio wean itself from the punch-card ballot system that made “hanging chad” part of the American lexicon.
Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, chairman of the Elections System Study Committee, has submitted a draft report that makes several suggestions, including requiring the 70 Ohio counties using punch-cards to replace them gradually with devices in which voters fill in dots as if they were taking standardized tests. The results would be read by optical scanners.
The goal would be to make Ohio punch-card free by 2006.
The proposal counts on as much as $70 million in federal and state support to counties at a time when the nation may be entering an economic recession and Ohio is struggling with an estimated $500 million hole in its budget.
Sen. Jeffrey Jacobson (R., Brookville) argued that Ohio's system isn't broken and that the draft is a “solution in search of a problem.”
“In Florida, some people got very upset over the fact their candidate didn't win and it took the form of an attack on the election process ...,” he said. “Unfortunately, it affected the national consciousness and led people to reconsider systems that have caused no problems .... Ohio doesn't have such problems.”
But Mr. Blackwell said that if he had his way, the state would get rid of punch-card ballots almost immediately.
“To not take concrete and progressive steps is like saying you won't buy a fire detector because your house hasn't caught fire yet,” he said.
Chief among his concerns is the inability of voters using punch-card ballots to double-check their votes for errors before submitting them. A punch card, once removed from the machine, looks like a simple piece of paper with holes that no longer correspond to a candidate.
The panel - made up of Mr. Blackwell, three senators, three state representatives, two county election directors, and two members of the general public - received permission yesterday from legislative leaders to delay the committee's report one week.
It will meet again Oct. 9 to reach consensus on a final report.
State Rep. Tom Lendrum (R., Huron), a committee member, said he supports the recommendations contained in the draft.
“The fact that we can't afford it, frankly, is not our responsibility,” he said.