Elections Officials Say They're Ready for November 4th

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DCB: With bad memories of Ohio vote count snafus in the last two presidential contests, elections officials across the state have been preaching the gospel of early voting --- and apparently the message is getting through. Over a quarter million Cuyahoga County residents are expected to cast their votes in advance. Jose Candelario, who heads the elections board in neighboring Lorain County reports a similar spike.

CANDELARIO: The volumes have been what we've been expecting --- unprecedented. Three or four times as much as we've had in the past.

DCB: Lorain voters who go to the polls next week will be using Diebold touch screen machines. Candelario said the Diebold system has been working fine.

But Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, who took control of the Cuyahoga County Elections Board in April 2007, has repeatedly criticized touch screen systems - and Diebold's in particular - because they don't provide a paper trail to confirm vote counts. Brunner mandated that Cuyahoga County use an optical scan paper ballot system for the March 2008 primary.

BRUNNER: And we would overall like to see all the counties in Ohio move to a system such as Cuyahoga County has. Right now, we still have 53 counties using the touch screen machines, and we believe that based on what is available, the optical scan paper ballot system provides a better alternative in terms of security.

Brunner's takeover of the Cuyahoga Board came after a series of election controversies put the county in the national spotlight. Now, after a year and a half, Brunner says she's ready to step back from direct oversight, following next week's election.

BRUNNER: We essentially gave the Board the chance to move out from that before the election and the consensus that I got was that they felt comfortable continuing as we were, because our office looks at it as a means to provide additional support so that the Board can be extremely successful and work to the benefit if the voters and we're very proud of the job they've done."

Cuyahoga County Elections Board Chair Jeff Hastings, says that's encouraging news.

HASTINGS: I certainly believe that my board members and I will want to discuss after the election the role that the Secretary of State's office would take in administrative oversight. I certainly believe that this board and this staff are ready to operate independently of the Secretary of State's office and look forward to that date after the election when that occurs.

DCB: Because of the record number of early voters, Hastings estimates that a half hour after the polls are closed on November 4th, a third of the votes will already be counted. But, that technical achievement comes with dangers, says elections watchdog Candace Hoke of Cleveland State University. Hoke believes more needs to be done in terms of protecting election results from hackers and software glitches. She adds that the equipment needs to be easy to use.

HOKE: We should have standards for that. This is not something that we can't do. We just haven't done it as a nation.

DCB: Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner is predicting an unprecedented 80% of eligible Ohio voters will participate in the November election. Cuyahoga County has hired 10,000 people to work the polls on November 4th and help with the vote count. And with a week to go, it looks like they'll have their hands full.

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