OFFBEAT: Elect voting technology that works

Maybe local control has its limits. Ohio likes to allow as many decisions as possible to be made on the county level, includi
Tom Jackson
May 24, 2010

Maybe local control has its limits.

Ohio likes to allow as many decisions as possible to be made on the county level, including decisions on how elections should be run.

Many election boards in Ohio have not handled that responsibility well. It's time for the Ohio General Assembly to mandate that all 88 counties use optical-scan voting technology and end the irresponsible experimentation with touch screen voting machines.

I like many of the features of Ohio's election system.

Each of the state's 88 counties is run by a four-member board split between the two major parties. The full-time staff at election boards also is a bipartisan mixture.

None of the conspiracy theories claiming Kerry won Ohio in 2004 and the election was stolen by the Republicans account for the factit would have to have been stolen in plain sight of Democratic officials.

I'm fine with letting the local boards certify the results, print the ballots, handle challenges to the validity of voter registrations and other normal duties.

But I think the system breaks down by allowing 88 separate decisions on which kinds of voting technology should be used.

Erie County's election board has been wise in choosing its voting system. Erie County uses optical-scan voting machines.

That means voters mark their choices on paper ballots, which are then counted by electronic ballot scanning machines.

The system is fast and provides for a quick count of election results.

It also builds confidence in the system. When a recount is needed because of a close election, election workers have paper ballots that can be counted by hand. There isn't any controversy about whether the votes were accurately recorded.

Erie County voters can count on fast, accurate vote counts, but living in Cuyahoga County, as I do, is another story. We vote, and then voters sometimes wait for days to find out the results.

Cuyahoga County uses touch screen machines.

The machines inspire endless arguments about whether they are recording the votes correctly. They are supposed to produce paper printouts to record the vote, but apparently that doesn't always work.

The Plain Dealer reported last week more than 20 percent of the printouts from touch screen voting machines from the last election were unreadable and had to be printed again.

The subhead for the story said, "Officials fear disaster in Cuyahoga County during primary vote."

Oklahoma, my home state, isn't exactly a vanguard for good public policy, but it does handle election technology right.

All 77 counties in Oklahoma use the same optical-scan voting machines. Election returns come in quickly. There's no argument over hanging chads in punch cards, no endless debates about whether nefarious computer hackers are messing up the fancy touch screen machines. If it's necessary, valid paper ballots are available to be counted.

Ohio is a much more important state in national elections than Oklahoma. It should adopt optical-scan technology statewide and boost public confidence in the election process.