By Jennifer Brunner
Ohio's recent election systems review conducted by my office has been called one of the most exhaustive studies in the nation. We were fortunate to have the cooperation of all voting machine manufacturers whose systems are used in our state, a team of both industrial and academic researchers who performed parallel testing, and a group of bipartisan election officials who were instrumental in the review of the report findings and the crafting of recommendations.
My job as secretary of state is to protect the interests of voters in fair and accurate elections in our state. The recent and ongoing debate on what is the best voting system for our state involves what I believe are the best intentions of Ohio's election officials, voting rights activists, nonprofit voting related organizations, members of the legislature and media, and most importantly, Ohio voters.
A recent poll by The Columbus Dispatch of Democratic and Republican voters who would prefer a paper ballot was enlightening (54% of Democrats and 38% of Republicans), and it confirms the flood of letters, e-mails, telephone calls and other communications my office has received from citizens indicating that they like the direction my office is going toward the widespread use of paper ballots in Ohio-ballots that can be verified, counted by hand if necessary, and are able to be archived without deterioration.
Still, even after the recommendations of our voting study, while four counties have on their own migrated to paper ballots that are optically scanned, 53 out of 88 counties will continue to utilize the direct recording electronic touchscreen voting systems in the upcoming March 4 primary.
Our study showed that while some procedures and external controls could lessen some risks, the flaws found were so systemic that elimination of critical risks was best addressed by discontinuing their use in Ohio elections.
Understanding that changes in election systems take time and money, I chose not to unilaterally decertify voting machines as was done in other states, but rather, to proceed with prudence by working in a bipartisan fashion with Ohio's election officials and the Republican controlled Ohio General Assembly. To date I have received welcome cooperation from the Ohio General Assembly as it has moved to adopt emergency legislation that will protect votes when over votes occur on paper ballots and to enable greater election efficiency in Cuyahoga County.
Much more work lies ahead that will require bipartisan cooperation among state leaders and election officials as we move toward ways to address findings of the study for November's pivotal election. Once again, Ohio will be in the spotlight, and what we do in Ohio will matter greatly to our fellow Americans and to the world.
Ohio has been a national leader in addressing voting machine concerns, and we will continue to forge ahead in crafting solutions that will allow us to conduct exemplary elections this year. I remain committed to the creed that there is neither a Republican nor a Democratic way to run a fair election, and I believe voters understand this better than anyone.
My recent directive to require backup paper ballots for counties utilizing the touchscreen voting machine technology results not only from the findings of our study but from the fact that this technology has not been put into widespread use in Ohio in a presidential election until now. Claims that there may be too few paper ballots for voters who want them unnecessarily stoke fear, especially since the directive requires a minimum of 10%, and many counties have printed ballots in much greater number, depending on their past voting histories.
Many painfully recall that the hallmark of Ohio's 2004 presidential election and reputation was long lines of voters standing in the rain for hours. This was especially true in Franklin County, where touchscreen machines were used throughout the county. I do not want Ohioans to have to suffer this again. The backup paper ballots will allow voters who prefer a paper ballot to have a choice that for some will bring greater peace of mind, for others greater convenience, and for others a safety net in the face of long lines or machine failures. It's that simple.
The fullest measure of democracy is participation. It is my job to ensure that every person who is eligible and wants to vote can do so in an election system that is free, fair, open and honest. While the debate may swirl about how to best accomplish this, I am committed to working with our governor, legislature and Ohio's election officials and voting rights advocates to ensure that democracy works in Ohio.
Jennifer Brunner is Ohio's 52nd secretary of state and Ohio's first woman secretary of state.