Rebecca Kelley

Voters in Butler County will have one more decision to make at the upcoming March 4 primary-to use paper or electronic machines when voting.

According to Jeff Ortega, assistant director of communications with Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner’s office, Ohio election officials have issued a directive instructing 57 counties, including Butler, to offer paper ballots as an alternative to touch screen voting, the mechanism used over the last several years. To use this alternative, voters will have to request a paper ballot when entering the polls.

Ortega said the alternative voting method was announced after Brunner commissioned a review in fall 2007 of the touch screen voting systems. He said the review was based upon researcher evidence that there was vulnerability in the Ohio voting system.

“(The paper ballots) are an option for voters who have doubts about the security of the voting machines,” Ortega said.

He emphasized that in addition to the issued review, voters may question the security of the touch screen machines based on news reports and other reports of security trouble from various states.

“For those voters who have any concerns, this affords them another option,” Ortega said.

Ryan Barilleaux, chair of Miami University’s department of political science, said the results from the touch screen voting machines could be controversial compared to paper ballots.

“One problem with the new touch screen machines is (that there is) no paper trail in case of questions about the results or problems with the machines,” Barilleaux said. “This leads to a lack of confidence in the results.”

According to Miami assistant political science professor Chris Kelley, past elections such as the 2004 presidential election have shown that the touch screen voting can have many problems, such as “manipulation of the vote.”

“Until we can be sure that these systems are free from error, intentional or not, we need to continue to offer voters a choice,” Kelley said.

Ortega said that the 57 counties instructed to use the paper ballots are the only counties in Ohio that use touch screen voting. He said 28 other counties already use the optical scan paper ballots that will be the alternative to touch screen voting.

According to Kelley, offering paper ballots as an alternative may encourage voters that have been intimidated by the electronic voting machines to participate. Offering paper ballots would give people a more familiar way to vote.

“I think that some people would eschew going to the polling place for fear of not understanding how to work the machines,” Kelley said.

Kelley suggested that by offering a choice, it might increase the faith people have in the voting system, and make it easier for people to vote.

As for how offering this alternative might affect the counties, Ortega does not believe it will have much of an impact.

“This office does not believe this directive will be an undo burden on counties and boards of elections to comply,” Ortega said.

One reason he gave for this is that counties already use paper ballots for absentee ballots, and as a result, they have experience with this form of voting, even in those counties that use touch screen voting.

Kelley said Ohio should do whatever is best to get voters to the polls.

“The state should do whatever possible to make voting as easy as possible because the system only works when citizens participate,” he said.

Additional reporting by Allison Cole.