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Published: Wednesday, 8/20/2003

Election machine upgrades delayed

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - Security and funding concerns have prompted Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell to postpone his goal of replacing all county punch-card and lever voting machines until November, 2004.

Mr. Blackwell had hoped to have new machines in place by the March 2004 primary, when voter turnout is expected to be lighter than the November presidential election, the federal deadline for the upgrades.

“The number of counties involved in a March election systems upgrade is entirely dependent on our security review and the resources available from the federal government,” Mr. Blackwell said.

A decision won't be made before December as to whether Ohio will need to ask for a waiver of the November, 2004, federal deadline.

As recently as Friday, Mr. Blackwell expressed confidence that the security review of electronic voting machines he ordered and litigation filed by a disqualified vendor would not disrupt his timeline.

Ohio Court of Claims Judge Fred Shoemaker has scheduled a hearing for Friday morning to decide whether he should issue a preliminary injunction preventing Mr. Blackwell from releasing a final menu of five approved voting systems from three vendors from which counties could choose.

California-based Sequoia Voting Systems won a temporary restraining order last week after arguing it had been prematurely disqualified from negotiations because its initial bid price was deemed too high.

Sixty-nine of Ohio's counties still use punch cards, the system that came under attack as a result of the Florida “hanging chad” debacle in the 2000 presidential election.

Lucas County, one of two counties that previously relied on lever machines, is replacing them with machines using optical-scan technology and computer touch screens.

The federal Help America Vote Act called for $161 million for Ohio to upgrade its voting system. So far the state has received only $41 million and expects to receive $32 million more in the fall.

“March was a deadline we imposed on ourselves,” a Blackwell spokesman said.



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