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COLUMBUS - Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner yesterday warned county elections officials that as many as 80 percent of registered voters could show up at the polls on Nov. 4 at a time when the nation, if not the world, will have the state under a microscope.
Despite the fact that the Republican-controlled General Assembly shrugged off her proposal to replace new electronic voting machines with paper ballots, the Democrat predicted that Ohio will run a sound election that voters inside and outside the state can trust.
"I still believe a paper ballot system offers us the most flexibility for high turnout," she said. "This system will work in combination with the no-fault absentee voting, and with post-election audits and backup paper ballots. We'll have a foolproof system."
County elections officials statewide convened in Columbus yesterday for their last summit before the general election to prepare for what could go wrong and has gone wrong. With record turnout expected, elections officials heavily will promote no-fault absentee ballots in hopes of reducing lines at the polls and again will have paper ballots on hand in counties like Lucas that use computerized, touch-screen voting machines.
Ms. Brunner, a Democrat, said she recognized some have questioned her motives in some of her more controversial decisions, including direct confrontations with boards of elections in Cuyahoga and Summit counties.
"You and I have pushed and pulled on one another for the last year and a half, and that's a good thing. ," she told the county officials. "As long as the secretary of state is elected by one party or another, somebody is always going to question the secretary of state's motivations. That's to be expected.
"But I will state to you here today unequivocally that my efforts are focused not on my party, not on my re-election, and not on any other affiliation, but rather on making Ohio's elections system the best that it can be," she said.
At Ms. Brunner's request, the state last year funded a $1.9 million study that raised many questions about the security of electronic voting, particularly the touch-screen machines that a majority of Ohio counties switched to with federal help after Florida's "hanging-chad" debacle in 2000.
In November, 53 counties will use touch-screen machines with backup paper trails while 35 will use optical scan devices that electronically read paper ballots. Northwest Ohio counties use touch-screens except for Ottawa, Sandusky, Seneca, Erie, Williams, Allen, and Van Wert.
Jill Kelly, Lucas County's deputy elections director, said the county will promote advance absentee voting to ease the pressure on lines at the polls. She expressed confidence in the touch-screen machines, noting that the local board conducts its own diagnostics above what the state requires.
But she raised concerns about how quickly Lucas will be able to handle a large number of paper ballots distributed at the polls. For the primary, Ms. Brunner issued a directive requiring counties to have enough paper ballots on hand to serve at least 10 percent of registered voters. That percentage is expected to be even higher for Nov. 4.
"We are not an optical-scan county," Ms. Kelly said. "We're a [touch-screen] county. We bring those [paper ballots] back to tabulate them [from the polling locations]. Some of the other large counties have these fancy-schmancy high-speed readers. Our vendor [Diebold Premier] doesn't have one that's been certified yet. All we have are the old-fashioned little scanners. It's going to take a while."
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