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The Price for Democracy in Ohio

July 27, 2008 - Joselyn King
Just what is it about Ohio, elections, absurdity and the absurdity of Ohio elections?

You don't hear West Virginia officials complaining of increasing election costs, nor are those in Pennsylvania or even New York -- a much larger state than Ohio.

It's getting to the point in Ohio where county officials have to decide between administering elections, fixing potholes, repairing the courthouse roof or providing the matching funds for a child protection program administered by the county Department of Job and Family Services.

The problem for counties is that election costs are mandated and thrust upon them. It's up to the county officials to find a way to pay for the mandates.

Former Monroe County Deputy Director of Elections Ann Block -- now a field representative for the Ohio Secretary of State's Office -- told Belmont County election board members this week that all counties within her East Ohio jurisdiction have felt the economic crunch brought about by rising election costs.

In Morgan County, she said, courthouse workers cringe when they see election officials go into the commissioner's office. The workers look at each other, wondering which of them will be the next to be fired to pay for the next elections mandate.

And just what are the counties paying for? While they have received grant money to replace their decertified punch card voting machines with optical scan or touchscreen devices, there are extra costs associated with maintaining and programming the machines for each election.

In Belmont County, it was cheaper for the elections board to hire an information technologies person to oversee the machines than to pay a $50,000 annual cost to Elections Systems and Software -- manufacturer of the devices -- for the service.

Then there's the question of storing the machines. They take up more space and are much heavier than the old punchcard technology.

And it is no longer possible for the pollworkers to just set the machines up on election day. Often extra help is hired, and election workers start a week before the elections placing the voting devices at the local church or American Legion where voting will take place the following Tuesday.

The machines are left unattended until Election Day -- but computer cards aren't attached.

Most recently pollworkers have had to go out to these same locations and ascertain what must be done there to bring them up to state standards for handicapped accessibility. The locations largely already comply with federal Americans with Disabilities Act regulations, but Ohio law is more strict.

Taxpayer money can't be used to pay for permanent improvement to privately owned properties, so whatever changes are made must be temporary and removable. The temporary ramps built and the wheelchair mats purchased will have to be placed before the election and left unattended.

Election workers will return after the election and take them to. . . whatever location can be found in which to store them.

Ohio election officials would like everybody in the state to vote absentee, though the cost to mail out a ballot is typically about $3 each. For the interim, the polling locations still must remain open.

Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner also has suggested the state implement a voting by mail system that already is being used in Washington and Oregon.

Voter turnout in these states is about 80 percent, but who's to say someone isn't buying up singed ballots and mailing them in. As those in southern West Virginian know, vote-buying is all too possible.

Besides, people want the experience of going to their local polling place to cast their ballot. It's an event. That's why the disabled want to have access.


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