State Mulls Options To Pay For $31M Elections System Overhaul

By Associated Press

CLEVELAND — State leaders have pledged to help find funding for Cuyahoga County and others to switch electronic voting systems, but there are few suggestions on where to get the $31 million needed for the transition.

 

The state’s most populous county, which includes Cleveland, is moving ahead with plans to adopt an optical-scan system – paper ballots scanned by a computer – to replace touch-screen systems that that Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner has deemed a security risk.

 

Brunner plans to pursue several options to help come up with the money for Cuyahoga and the 56 other counties that use touch-screen systems, said Patrick Gallaway, a spokesman with the secretary of state’s office.

 

“We know the reality that budgets are tight,” Gallaway said Tuesday. “If we can’t find the money, we’re not going to ask them to do this.”

 

One source is the state’s rainy day fund, a once-empty account that has grown to just over $1 billion after three years of deposits.

 

House Speaker Jon Husted mentioned the fund last month after Brunner released a study that was critical of Ohio’s electronic voting machines.

 

“I’m sure if there is a need to do this that we will try to find a way,” Husted said. “The only thing that I would know about right now is the rainy day fund.”

 

However, Gov. Ted Strickland, who is to meet with Brunner next week on the issue, doesn’t agree.

 

“The governor is not supportive of using the rainy day fund for this purpose because it is intended to be used to stabilize the state budget in times of fiscal emergency,” Strickland spokesman Keith Dailey said Tuesday.

 

Another potential source is federal funding, particularly the $115 million that will be allocated to states this year through the Help America Vote Act, Gallaway said.

 

“We’re being as optimistic as we can,” Gallaway said. “At least we may be better positioned than some states because we have done this study already. We’ve shown we have vulnerabilities and issues with our systems here.”

 

The optical-scan system is expected to cost $1 million to $3 million in Cuyahoga County for the March 4 primary and $10 million by the November election. County commissioners have yet to approve a contract with Omaha, Neb.-based Election Systems & Software.

 

Costs could go even higher if the county moves to a precinct-based counting system in November. In a precinct-based system, ballots are scanned at the polling location and voters are notified if they overvoted or undervoted in any race – so-called “second-chance voting.”

 

There wasn’t enough time to establish that system for the March primary so the county will use a central counting system where paper ballots are returned to a downtown location to be scanned.

 

Elections board members on Tuesday said that because of time constraints they would not pursue board member Sandy McNair’s suggestion that 60 scanners be placed in some of the more than 582 polling locations to determine how much overvoting occurs.

 

“I would be supportive of pursuing funding to get the money to have precinct-based scanning everywhere in November,” said board member Inajo Davis Chappell.

 

After the meeting, Chappell said she was concerned the money wouldn’t be available and hoped the state Legislature would help.

 

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio has threatened to sue Cuyahoga County over the lack of second-chance voting in the new system. But Brunner says that Cuyahoga will follow the Help American Vote Act, which requires that counties using a central count system provide proper voter education.

 

Cuyahoga has had numerous voting problems in past elections, including problems with its electronic touch-screen system that debuted in the May 2006 primary.

 

Board chairman Jeff Hastings announced Tuesday that the board has asked its attorneys to start discussions with Allen, Texas-based Premier Election Solutions, about potential reimbursement because of the touch-screen system’s unsatisfactory performance. The county spent $21 million on the system.

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