ONB COLUMBUS: When early pioneers floated downstream on the Niagara River, they saw the billowing streams of rising mists from the monstrous falls that lay ahead of them. For the boatmen who failed to heed the clear message of the mists, their future was indeed bleak. For the smart ones who understood the peril of the mists, they had time to portage around the death-defying waterfalls further downstream.
The mighty mists of Ohio’s election system have already been spotted. They rose on Election Day through a foreboding combination of machine and server malfunctions and poor poll-worker performance. This cocktail of concern was seen in several counties, most notably in Cuyahoga, the scene of previous Election Day train wrecks, which again experienced troubling system and machine malfunctions, and in Putnam, a small county where a special congressional primary election was being held.
The three members of the Cuyahoga County Commission (CCC), who fund the Board of Elections, know that the catastrophic falls that await them are the 2008 presidential election. With enough time to portage around them, and knowing that continuing to paddle downstream in the same vessel that the last election showed is not as seaworthy as it should be given the precipitous falls that lay ahead, they have penned a letter to Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner asking her to find about $20 million to pay for the cost of switching our their current crop of cantankerous touch-screen machines with expensive optical scan machines in advance of the advancing falls.
COMMISSIONERS AVERSE TO BEING FALL GUY FOR NEXT FALL’S ELECTION WATERFALL.
CCC Jimmy Dimora, a Democrat and vocal critic of the county’s touch-screen voting system, told The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer (CPD) he’s looking to a higher authority to help out if the next presidential election in 2008 is as close as the previous two.
"If it is as close as it's been for the last two presidential elections and it's that close again in 2008, God help us if we have to depend on Cuyahoga County as the deciding factor with regard to making the decision on who the next president of the United States is.” [Jimmy Dimora, CPD]Closer to home, he and his commissioner colleagues have written a letter to Brunner, who is already expressing “great concern” if CC decides to use the machines they’ve already paid for, for next year, to come up with about $20 million to replace the county voting machines.
Dimora’s concern over the past and current performance of the county’s voting system again appeared justified when during the general election in early November, which only saw an 18 percent voter turnout, more than 20 percent of the printouts, or paper trails, from touch-screen machines were unreadable, requiring them to be reprinted, adding another 12 hours to recounting two races which only involved 17 or the county’s 1,436 precincts.
CCBOE director Jane Platten, who replaced Michael Vu who was fired by an election’s board no longer in place due to allegations that he severely mishandled and mismanaged the 2004 general election, acknowledged that if similar missteps happen next year, it’s not unreasonable that it would a week to conduct an accurate recount.
"I wish those paper trails would come out pristine -- and they don't, and they're not going to. We're going to have to deal with it again." [Jane Platten, CCCBOE, CPD]Election watchers say the voter-verified paper audit trail, or VVPAT, equipment sold to boards of elections through a vendor like Premier Election Systems (formerly known as Diebold) is both expensive and prone to failure in part because it uses thermal printing, an outdated technology.
Echoing the concern of the CCC was Inajo Davis Chappell, a new Democrat who was hand-selected by Brunner earlier in the year when she fired the then-BOE at the time, which was chaired by Bob Bennett, the chairman of the Ohio GOP.
"This is very much a cause for concern. All the technology issues pose a challenge to us, especially given the volume of voters we expect in the primary." [Inajo Davis Chappell, CPD]Rob Frost, a Republican and chairman of the CCCBOE, seemingly expressed puzzlement with Brunner’s advice to he and his board members that they reach a consensus now before her big $1.8 million top-to-bottom report on the state’s election system comes out next Friday.
“I'd be hard-pressed to say that we can be expected to reach a consensus when we know we're going to have a whole lot more information next week.” [Rob Frost, CCCBOE Chair, CPD]OHIO ELECTION TOPOGRAPHY: FROM WATERFALLS TO MOUNTAIN TOPS
The report Frost is waiting to see is Brunner’s much-vaunted assessment of the state’s voting system, an effort she said is needed to reinstall confidence in Ohio voters that their election system really isn’t as messed up as it has clearly shown itself to be in the past under Ken Blackwell and the present under Brunner.
Aptly named for the steep climb of confidence and correction it represents, EVEREST (Evaluation & Validation of Election-Related Equipment, Standards & Testing) raised eyebrows and concerns with a couple state legislators who questioned its methodology and the researchers used to conduct it. It ultimately won their support.
A FEW OTHER VOTING SYSTEM GLITCHES
Cuyahoga County, the state’s most populous, can take center stage in almost any election. But Ohio has 88 counties and glitches have cropped up, as recently as this past election, in several of them.
Here’s a list of links to some of them, like Putnam County, where machines failed and election workers, maybe purposely, failed to follow Election Day Directives from Brunner, Goshen, where the outcome of a school construction proposition is lost forever due to voting-machine screw-ups and Hamilton County, where a debate continues about what happened on election night.
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