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Ohio bars voting machine 'sleepovers' with poll workers

Elections chief cites importance of transparency

By Stephen Majors
Associated Press / August 20, 2008
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COLUMBUS, Ohio - Poll workers will not be allowed to take voting machines home for safekeeping in the days before the November presidential election because the practice known as "sleepovers" is an unacceptable security risk, the state elections chief said yesterday.

Taking machines home makes it nearly impossible to keep track of what happens to a machine or memory card once it goes into the custody of a poll worker, Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner said.

The changes are meant to address actual security concerns - including the fear that machines could be tampered with - but to also address national perceptions of Ohio's election system, which has come under fire in recent years, Brunner said.

"We want Ohio's voters and the rest of the nation to see that we have prepared a transparent process of transporting voting equipment, ballots, and supplies," said Brunner, a Democrat elected in 2006 with a promise to reform a system criticized for scattered problems of long lines and poorly trained poll workers.

Ohio gave President Bush the electoral votes he needed for reelection in 2004 and could be a pivotal state again in this year's contest.

Twenty-four of Ohio's 88 counties have used sleepovers - many of them for years - and will now have to come up with a new way to store machines and equipment before Election Day.

Many local election officials have argued that sleepovers make it easier to transport machines to polling sites.

Otherwise, they would have to hire moving companies to distribute the machines at a cost of thousands of dollars - funds not now in their budgets.

Brunner said federal money will reimburse counties for the added cost, which she estimates at $100,000 statewide.

Elections officials will be allowed to transport and store the machines at polling places ahead of time, avoiding an early morning scramble on Election Day, Brunner said. However, the polling places must have fire protection equipment and other security measures.

"Are people going to grumble that they have to change their process this close to the election? Absolutely," said Aaron Ockerman, lobbyist for the Ohio Association of Election Officials. "But I think the secretary made an effort to provide as much flexibility to counties as possible."

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