Ohio elections officials preparing for 80% turnout in November
Nick Juliano
Published: Monday August 25, 2008

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'We will get sued on Nov. 4,' county official predicts

DENVER -- As many as 80 percent of Ohio's registered voters could turn out on Election Day, says the state's top election official.

"Looking at the interest in this election, we think it's highly probable," Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner said during a panel discussion on election reforms.

Brunner addressed controversy in the state over use of electronic voting machines in the past.

While she was unwilling to force counties to completely abandon DRE machines, she said all voters would have the option to vote on a paper ballot and officials were implementing more stringent security procedures in the 53 counties that still used electronic machines. Brunner said she could not fund the switch from electronic voting in those counties and did not want to implement an unfunded mandate on areas of the already economically struggling state.

Cuyahoga County, which includes Ohio's largest city, Cleveland, stopped using Diebold machines this year, before the state's March primary. It was a move Brunner put in motion after she broke a tie vote on the county's board of elections.

"I do think the paper ballot system proved to us to be a much better system for Cuyahoga County," said Jane Platten, director of Cuyahoga County's board.

Cuyahoga County was subject to a lawsuit filed just before polls closed during the March 4 primary and precincts there were forced to stay open to account for long lines of voters. Platten said she hopes paper ballots will allow poll workers to accommodate more voters, but said she expected there would still be long lines and legal challenges.

"We will get sued on Nov. 4, 2008," she said. "I got into the election assuming that."

The two spoke during separate panels at a discussion in Denver sponsored by the Pew Center on the States and electionline.org.

Elections officials in counties still using electronic machines would be required to have a number of backup paper ballots equivalent to 25 percent of their turnout in the 2004 election, Brunner said. Ohio also is allowing voters to cast mail-in absentee ballots for any reason and will count those ballots up to 10 days after Election Day as long as they are placed in the mail by Nov. 4.

Brunner, a Democrat elected in 2006, criticized her predecessor, Ken Blackwell, for "breaking all of the unwritten rules" by serving as the state chairman of the Bush/Cheney campaign in 2004 and by actively campaigning for a statewide ballot measure to ban gay marriage that same year.

After Ohio's 2004 vote was plagued by long lines, especially in minority areas that were allocated few voting machines, Bunner said she aimed to increase transparency and better allocate the machines this time around.