Ohio county may move evoting from fingers to eyes

Officials in Ohio’s Cuyahoga County are mulling the idea of scrapping a US$17 million (C$19.5 million) investment in touch-screen electronic voting systems and switching to optical-scan devices.

Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, began using Diebold Election Systems‘ AccuVote TSx touch-screen machines in elections this year. But some members of the county’s Board of Commissioners are concerned that those systems won’t be able to handle a growing number of voters.

In contrast, they say, optical-scan systems could accommodate increased numbers of voters in elections with heavy turnouts by allowing elections officials to add more booths for filling out paper ballots at polling places.

Hugh Shannon, government service coordination manager for the county, confirmed that a shift to optical-scan devices is being discussed. “We are gathering information towards that end,” Shannon said. A decision will likely be made by the end of the year, he added.

Michael Vu, director of the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, said that neither he nor any members of his committee had discussed the voting systems issue with the board of commissioners.

The use of Diebold’s touch-screen systems in a May 2 primary in Cuyahoga County was the subject of a critical report issued last summer by the Election Science Institute. The San Francisco-based ESI is a nonprofit group that promotes the development of auditable election systems.

The report, which was based on a study funded by the county commissioners, stated that most voters surveyed by the ESI said they liked the e-voting systems and found them easier to use than the punch-ballot machines they replaced. But the report cited a series of operational and procedural issues, including problems with the paper audit trails generated by the Diebold systems.

It’s noteworthy that the commission is now considering a change, said Steven Hertzberg, a project director at the ESI. “Diebold’s rhetoric about the performance of its [systems] does not withstand objective scrutiny,” he said.

Diebold, however, claims that its touch-screen systems work very well with large numbers of voters. David Bear, a spokesman for the Allen, Texas-based unit of Diebold Inc., said the problems in Cuyahoga County have tended to be the result of training problems and a lack of familiarity with the devices, not the technology itself.

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