Dispatch Editorial - Elect to Start Tough Task Early

Ohio’s aging voting machines soon will need replacing

Friday September 18, 2015 1:47 AM

With the 2016 presidential election more than a year away, Ohio officials are starting to plan for 2018 and beyond. Elected officials from both sides of the aisle are undertaking the initiative in a responsible manner, assuring Ohioans that the state’s voting machines are in shape to handle next year’s election but acknowledging that this equipment will need to be replaced relatively soon after that.

Planning for how to select and pay for that equipment needs to start now.

Ohio’s voting machines are 11 years old, which means they’re within their last few years of what’s considered their generally accepted lifespan. This does not mean they are in danger of breaking down; they are regularly put through rigorous tests. But it does mean that, recognizing the often time-consuming process of making such decisions and given the microscope that the voting process in Ohio is under, the process needs to get underway.

That already is happening to some degree.

The Ohio Association of Election Officials and county commissioners have been working in a joint committee for more than a year to explore new voting-machine options. Secretary of State Jon Husted, the state’s top official overseeing elections, has talked of securing federal funding to help pay for the machines’ replacement. But there is no guaranteed, dedicated funding source at this point for a project that will cost millions of dollars.

So the legislature needs to discuss potential funding, as it recently did in providing $13 million in state money to replace paper voter ledgers with electronic pollbooks across the state. That move will speed check-in at polls and pay for itself in reduced paper and personnel costs.

Rep. Michael Stinziano, D-Columbus, a former director of the Franklin County Board of Elections, has called on House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger and Senate President Keith Faber to study options to update Ohio’s voting equipment. This would be in addition to the continuing work being done by the joint committee of elections officials and county commissioners.

Stinziano correctly notes that whenever the subject of elections and voting rules comes up, it can turn into a partisan battle. Stinziano, who has a history of working in a bipartisan fashion in the Republican-controlled legislature, is careful to steer away from that. He agrees with Husted that Ohio’s voting machines are aging but should be fine through at least the 2016 election.

This is a welcome levelheadedness compared with an alarmist report released on Tuesday by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. The organization, which has previously stoked liberal fears of “voter suppression” with questionable statistics, suggested that aging machines in swing states such as Ohio are at risk of failures and crashes leading to “long lines and lost votes” simply because they are more than 10 years old.

Unfortunately, this kind of scare talk is likely to increase both from within and outside of Ohio as next year’s election draws closer. State officials should do everything they can to ensure that the selection process for the state’s next generation of voting systems is open, bipartisan and free of conflicts of interest.