Clark, Champaign officials hoping for state approval for ‘critical’ new voting machines

Voting systems at Clark and Champaign County polling places haven’t been updated since George W. Bush was president.

Technology has greatly evolved in the last 12 years, and the Ohio House agreed — voting should too.

The House unanimously voted Thursday to give $114.5 million in state funds to counties to purchase new voting machines. The funding will be distributed in part based on the number of registered voters in each county.

Director of the Clark County Board of Elections, Jason Baker said it’s long overdue.

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The county has 111 voting machines — 90 of which are used on Election Day.

It would cost about $1.2 million to replace those machines and other equipment, Baker said.

Even though the machines are put through a series of tests, there are times when they still fail. Baker said the board office got 15 calls during the May primary election where voting machines weren’t working the way they should.

“They’re workhorses,” he said “But it’s time for us to replace them.”

Baker said a lot of problems occur when the voting machines don’t read the ballots correctly or the screen will say the machine is jammed. To replace the unit that deals with those functions on the voting machine costs about $6,000.

Another common issue is with a part, called a diverter, in the voting machine that sorts out write ins — Baker said that breaks often.

“It’s been a few years ago, but one of them started smoking,” he said.

In addition to the voting machines, two scanners that are used for absentee, provisional and recount ballots and a computer system that’s used to upload results would also be replaced.

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Baker said safeguards are in place, but the process would be smoother with more efficient technology.

Ohio purchased most of the current voting machines in 2005 and 2006 with nearly $115 million in federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) money. HAVA passed after the 2000 presidential election exposed the critical need for upgrades.

The last time Champaign County saw any improvements to their voting machines was also in 2006.

“They’re holding up, but it’s getting harder to get parts for them,” said Meredith Bodey, Director of the Champaign County Board of Elections. She said many problems stem strictly from the age of the machines.

Bodey said the county currently has 32 voting machines — 28 in use on Election Day — and 15 for handicapped voters.

The bill still needs to go the Senate. Then Gov. John Kasich will need to sign off on it before it goes into effect. If the bill clears his desk, the plan is to have voting machines ready for 2019 elections.

If he doesn’t approve it? Bodey said the plan will be “beg, borrow and steal from other counties” when their voting machines break.

Baker said without “critical” state funding, it would be at least seven years before Clark County could update the systems in place.

The bill is sponsored by state Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Hudson, who is also running for Secretary of State.

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