COLUMBUS - Changes are planned for Ohio voting procedures in the presidential election this November, but requiring precincts to send ballots to central locations before tallying them won't be one of them, Ohio's chief elections officer said yesterday.
The boards will have enough on their hands in a statewide switch from touch-screen machines to machines that electronically scan paper ballots cast by voters, Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner said.
Currently, 57 of the state's 88 counties use electronic touch screens to record votes, but Ms. Brunner said an independent study released last month found the touch-screen systems could be more susceptible to tampering. She wants the switch to the optical-scan systems by November in a state that was crucial in President Bush's victory over Democrat John Kerry in 2004.
Making a second change this year - from counting votes at each precinct site to tallying several precincts' ballots at central locations - could put too much of a burden on local elections officials already coping with other changes, Ms. Brunner told a statewide meeting of those officials on Thursday.
"What we started out with were recommendations," Ms. Brunner said yesterday. "As we discussed the recommendations with legislators and election officials, we looked at how much change would be advisable within one year."
This year marks the first presidential election since Congress ordered states to get rid of punch cards that proved problematic in the 2000 election.
While Ms. Brunner is not requiring counties statewide to count votes in central locations, she is sticking with her decision to require such a system in Cuyahoga County by the March 4 primary.
Ms. Brunner has ordered that touch screens used in the county - Ohio's largest - be replaced by the optical-scan system in time for the election.
The American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday filed a lawsuit that argues the system to be put in place in Cuyahoga County violates voters' constitutional rights because it doesn't allow them to correct ballot errors before votes are counted. Some county election officials also have balked at making the switch.
Ms. Brunner should be commended for postponing the central-count plan, but should do away with it altogether, said Daniel Tokaji, an associate professor of law at Ohio State University and a specialist in election law.
Counting the votes away from where they are cast will disenfranchise voters who have no chance to fix their ballots, he said.