COLUMBUS - Even if the Lucas County Board of Elections had been able to agree on voting machines, it still would have been forced to make other plans for the Nov. 2 election.
Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell yesterday canceled plans to deploy Diebold Election Systems' touch-screens anywhere in Ohio, because the manufacturer has not fully resolved security questions.
As a result, state Sen. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo) called on the state to pay $350,000 for Lucas County to rent 386 alternative optical-scan machines, which employ paper ballots that are read electronically.
The lease plan was initially triggered by the 2-2 partisan stalemate of the board over whether to forge ahead with touch-screens this year or wait until they come equipped with a legislatively mandated paper backup system.
"If we would have gone forward to Diebold, we would still be stuck in this situation," said Ms. Fedor. "We would still have to lease machines. The state should pay for the leasing of our machines in Lucas County."
But Bernadette Noe, chairman of the board of elections and the county Republican Party, cautioned against being too quick to accept federal funds for leasing.
"I'm afraid that every county will be allocated a chunk of money and that if we started spending it on leasing and ate away at it, by the time we're ready to purchase we're not going to have any money left," she explained.
Blackwell spokesman Carlo LoParo said Lucas County should expect no federal funds for leasing.
"The election board tied and did not make a decision as a direct result of Senator Fedor's protesting and legislation urged and supported by Senator Fedor and Rep. [Peter] Uvagi (D., Toledo)," he said. "The indecision of the board resulted in the stalemate in Lucas County and the resulting cost of leasing, not the secretary of state's security assessment."
Three counties - Hardin, Lorain, and Trumbull - had entered into agreements with Diebold for the deployment of computerized touch-screens for use on Nov. 2, with the federal government picking up the tab.
Hardin County, like Lucas County, had previously used lever machines and will have to lease optical-scan alternatives. The other two counties will fall back on punch-card ballots like those called into question in Florida during the 2000 presidential election.
The General Assembly intervened in Mr. Blackwell's machine-deployment process earlier this year, voting to require that all touch-screens be equipped by 2006 with a paper system allowing voters to verify their ballots.
Diebold had been seeking recertification by the state after making a variety of changes to address concerns related to potential hacking, fraud, or error raised by a private firm hired by the state.
"As I made clear last year, I will not place these voting devices before Ohio's voters until identified risks are corrected," said Mr. Blackwell. "Diebold Election Systems has successfully addressed many, but not all, of the problems that were identified in our first security review."
Diebold maintains that the latest security report identifies risks not in the software of their machines but in their deployment. Mark Radke, director of marketing for Diebold, said the report identified questions about how the voting machines are locked and the management of keys but not on the security of the voting software.
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