• 57°

Blackwell talks election reform

Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell met with the Lawrence County Board of Elections yesterday afternoon and brought forth suggestions to improve state elections.

"This is part of the secretary’s effort to get outside of Columbus and discuss concerns and issues," said James Lee, a public

information officer for Blackwell.

One of the suggestions was eliminating punch cards and installing a new touch pad voting system.

"We’re not at risk of becoming another Florida," Blackwell said. "But these systems are more reliable, accurate and are easier to use."

The estimated cost to upgrade Lawrence County to a touch pad system is $745,000. However, a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives could provide federal money to pay for 90 percent of the upgrading cost, meaning the county would only have to pay $74,000.

A similar bill in the Senate could pay for the entire cost. However, Blackwell said the mandates included in this bill would probably make the cost of upgrading more than paying the remaining 10%.

The cost to upgrade the entire state will be approximately $150 million out of the $3.5 billion that the federal government could appropriate.

The county could purchase the equipment on its own or do a joint purchase with one or more other counties, Blackwell said.

Blackwell said he would like to have counties using the new equipment in the March 2004 primary elections so it will not be used for the first time in the November 2004 general election.

"If we get the 90%, I’m all for it," commented Robert E. Griffith, a member of the board of elections. "But, I’d like to get it to one percent if possible," suggesting that Lawrence County could possibly partner with a neighboring county for the purchase.

Whether or not the entire state upgrades to touch pad systems, Blackwell said his three goals of improving elections are protecting against over vote, having counts at the precinct level, and having a paper trail available in case of an audit.

Also, after voting, voters will receive a printout stating their votes are counted with the new touch pad system.

Even after upgrading to more advanced voting equipment, Blackwell said, voter education cannot be taken out of the picture.

Touch pad systems are in place in Franklin County. Blackwell said some of the voters pressed the "VOTE" button for every office for which they were voting. Only the first office was counted as a result.

Lee said as counties upgrade to the new systems, the Secretary of State’s office will try to put the new machines on display at county fairs to show voters how to use them.

Blackwell also pointed out that because of Ohio’s political importance, they will probably receive the federal money.

"The President is speaking at two commencements," Blackwell said. "One is West Point and one is OSU. It’s no accident." Ameila A. Pridemore/The Ironton Tribune