Ohio Returning to Paper Ballots?

Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner wants Cuyahoga County to switch from electronic touch screen voting to an optical scanning system that uses paper ballots. Elections officials in other counties wonder if they too will be required to make the change.

Some Cuyahoga County officials are not the only ones worried about switching from electronic voting to marking paper ballots. Fairfield County uses the same touch screen machines that Cuyahoga County uses, Premier machines made by Diebold. Fairfield County elections director Deborah Henderly says time and expense are two concerns she has should Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner order changes elsewhere.

“It’s very time consuming to train all of our workers and then we have to do that again with another system, Henderly says. “I know that it would be more costly for us to go to paper ballots and not just us, everywhere, because the paper ballots are costly to print. But we’ll do what the secretary directs us to do.”

But Secretary Brunner may not be able to implement changes single-handedly; even though a recent study she commissioned found that Ohio’s electronic voting systems have “critical security failures”.

Republican Matt Damschroder, the head of the Franklin County Board of Elections says that many of Brunner’s published recommendations are accompanied by a caveat.

“All of the secretary of state’s recommendations, or almost all of them, are followed in parentheses that reads ‘legislative action required.’ So assuming that the General Assembly could act in a fashion very quickly to make the legislative changes to completely overhaul Ohio election law, even still, I don’t think there would be enough time to adopt all of these recommendations in time for the 2008 general election.”

Secretary of State Brunner wants the optical system in place in Cuyahoga County in time for the March primary. That would mean the scrapping of $21 million worth of electronic machines that have only been used for two years. Franklin County’s Matt Damschroder says he thinks more time is needed to analyze the possible transition.

“There’s a lot of unanswered questions, not the least of which is the actual cost of this kind of sweeping overhaul,” Damschroder says. “So I think there needs to be more time for careful consideration and deliberation and frankly, an analysis of the true cost.”

Brunner was expected to issue her order to Cuyahoga County December 21st.