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Ohio urges replacement of touch-screen voting units

December 15, 2007|From the Associated Press

COLUMBUS, OHIO — The state's top elections official recommended Friday that Ohio's 88 counties replace their touch-screen voting machines because the devices are vulnerable to manipulation.

A report released by Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner found a host of ways in which the machines could be manipulated: When empty, a portal in the electronic machines can be manipulated with a magnet or personal digital assistant; ballot-creation programs are not password-protected or use a universal password; and invasive computer messages could be introduced by a voter and easily spread.

Touch-screen machines have been purchased nationwide to comply with the federal Help America Vote Act. Nationally, $3 billion was spent to replace the punch-card voting system that faltered in the 2000 election.

In the 2004 presidential race, Ohio bore the brunt of claims of voting problems. Complaints included limited access to machines, difficulties finding proper voting precincts and the accuracy of vote totals in precincts using electronic machines. Democrat John F. Kerry conceded the election to President Bush after narrowly losing Ohio.

The state's review involved touch-screen machines built by Election Systems & Software, Hart InterCivic and Diebold Inc.'s Premier Election Solutions. Some counties started using them in November 2005, and the rest in May 2006.

Hart InterCivic said its voting systems were already being updated for security and additional improvements would be made based on the Ohio review. Premier and ES&S also both issued statements defending their technology and committing to safe, secure elections. Premier noted that there has never been a documented case of the sort of tampering the Ohio study portends.

Brunner said she would not force Cuyahoga County -- the state's most populous and one plagued with electronic voting problems -- to replace its machines for the March primary, but she said she would be disappointed if it doesn't.

The Cuyahoga County elections board will meet Monday to discuss its options.

Brunner, a Democrat, initiated the review when she took office this year, and state House Speaker Jon A. Husted, a Republican, joined her at the report's release to signal that its findings were nonpartisan.

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