Pam Bockey-Smith, clerk, assists Marge Fronefield (on the right) with the new Diebold touch screen voting machines.
Pam Bockey-Smith, clerk, assists Marge Fronefield (on the right) with the new Diebold touch screen voting machines.
BY ED GEBERT

Times Bulletin News Writer

egebert@timesbulletin.com

Is it possible that local voters have seen the last of the electronic voting machine?

If Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner has her way the machines, which have been used in Van Wert County since November of 2005, will be a thing of the past.

Brunner made a series of recommendations Friday morning, based on the report of a federally-funded study of electronic voting systems in use in the state of Ohio.

In her statement, Brunner called for the elimination of direct recording electronic machines and precinct-based optical scan voting machines. Instead of electronic machines, votes would be cast on paper by filling in a circle, then optical scan machines would tabulate the ballots.

The suggestions were triggered by the release of the report from Brunner's office. The study found that electronic voting machines could be tampered with by using a magnet and a personal digital recorder. Machines made by all three manufacturers were found to be potentially vulnerable to tampering, including the Diebold AccuVote-TSX which is used in Van Wert, Paulding, and Mercer counties.

Brunner's suggestions came as a surprise to Van Wert County officials. County Commissioner Harold Merkle had no information on Brunner's plan, but noted that the county doesn't have money to be buying new equipment for next year's elections.

Van Wert County Board of Elections Executive Director Linda Stutz was enthusiastic about the possible changes, but also wondered about the funding of such changes. "Counties like ours certainly don't have the money," she said. "Since it's coming from the Secretary of State's office and she's making the suggestion, I would think she would have to figure out where the money is coming from."

The idea of scrapping the almost-new voting machines didn't bother Stutz. "As far as the paper ballots, it would be similar to what we did on Tuesday because that's the same exact system she's talking about except we would end up purchasing electronic ballot readers instead of feeding them through by hand like we do now," she pointed out.

Another part of Brunner's plan is the creation of 600-700 "vote centers" across Ohio instead of voting and tabulating individual precincts. Stutz compared that idea to what is already being done with voting at the Junior Fair Building. All of the Van Wert and Pleasant Township precincts now cast their ballots in that one centralized location.

As far as the rest of the county, some areas would be easier than others to consolidate. For instance, all five Delphos precincts could be combined at one vote center. However combining precincts in other parts of the county could be trickier.

"I think we're just going to have to wait and see what she comes down with," Stutz stated.

Another feature of the vote center may need reconsideration. Brunner's suggestion is to have these centers open 15 days prior to the election and on election day itself for 12 hours per day.

"She may reconsider something like that because for 15 days, you just can't afford it," Stutz pointed out. "Smaller counties can't afford that kind of thing. I think it's one of the things that needs to be fine-tuned."

The next step in the process remains to be seen. Merkle said that he was hoping to get a fuller update on Monday. Stutz spent much of Friday looking over information from Brunner's office. "I think she's got some good ideas there, and I'm very supportive of what she's saying," replied Stutz. "We still have a lot of people who don't like the electronic machines, so hopefully if we ended up going to the paper ballots and the optical scan-type system, then hopefully it would increase our voter turnout."