Cuyahoga County elections board members were evenly divided yesterday on whether to scrap the county's touch-screen voting system and switch to optical scan machines. Now the decision will likely be made by Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, who supports adopting an optical scan system before the March 4 presidential primary.
The four-member board's tie vote came after hours of hearing dire predictions from voting experts, venting by irate voters, and excuses from voting machine makers.
The split was along party lines, with Democratic board members supporting the measure to change to an optical scan system made by ES&S in time for the primary in March. Secretary of State Brunner recommended the move last week.
Board member Inajo Davis Chappell said she made up her mind based on her experience with the county's problem-prone touch-screen system the evening of the November 6 election.
Chappell: "I cannot describe the feelings, the angst, questioning if all the votes would be tabulated correctly, or if we would lose them. Even Premier's top technical system expert could offer no reasonable explanation in my view for the server crashes. I hope never to experience that kind of evening again."
Ditching the $21 million system, made by Premier, formerly Diebold of Stark County, will cost an extra $3 million in equipment, and an additional $2 million in annual operating costs. That estimate includes a dramatic cut in voting locations across the county - from 583 to 192 - which Brunner recommended in a report last week.
Republican board members voted against the measure. Board chairman Jeff Hastings said they had too little time and too little information to make the decision.
Hastings: "At this stage right now, we haven't even decided whether we need a new voting system -- I may get there. What do we want with that system? Is it an optical system centrally located or is it precinct located? We're not there yet. We're akin to, 'We need a new house, let's walk down the street .. There's one, let's buy it.
The vote came Thursday at the conclusion of more than a week of testing Premier's voting machines and meetings that stretched over 10 hours and two days. The tie gives Brunner the deciding vote.
During the testimony, no metaphor was too dramatic.
Candice Hoke: You’re not in a comfortable position with a great set of choices. You’re between a rock and a hard place, bad, badder and ugliest. I personally like Dante and the circles of hell.
That's Candice Hoke director of Cleveland State University's Center for Election Integrity. Hoke was one of a long list of critics who urged board members not to act hastily.
Even after executives from Premier said the machines would likely malfunction during a vote count when more than 20 machines are used at once. That's about one-third the operating capacity promised when the machines were bought.
Hoke: "There are other short term mitigations that can be used to control those crashes and freezes. I don't think you or the secretary (of state) has had that information. We're the ones who wrote that up for the world. Why would no one have even come to us to ask us? Why would you launch in to a multi-million dollar change to a technology that is flawed?"
Brunner's decision will stand unless voters collect enough signatures to put the issue up for a special election
The secretary of state can make her decision within 14 days.
Kymberli Hagelberg, 90.3.