Ohio Orders Paper Ballot Alternative

The new directive grows out of concerns over touch-screen voting security.

Ohio's secretary of state is ordering that paper ballots must be made available to voters using touch-screen voting machines in 57 of the state's 88 counties. The Jan. 3 decision came after a Dec. 12 report concluded the touch-screen machines were vulnerable to "critical security failures."

Under the directive by Secretary of State Jennifer L. Brunner, poll workers are not obligated to offer the paper ballots in the state's March 4 presidential primary but must have them on hand if a voter asks for one. Brunner said in the directive that the decision to provide alternative paper ballots was to "avoid any loss of confidence by voters that their ballots have been accurately cast or recorded."

Brunner, a Democrat elected in November, has also recommended that all Ohio counties switch to paper ballots by the fall general election.

Her paper ballot proposal immediately drew fire from Ohio election officials and the Ohio ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), which contends that the counting of paper ballots at a central location, instead of at the precinct level, violates state and federal laws. Brunner has argued that the ACLU is wrong on the law.

The $1.9 million December study by Brunner's office assessed the security of the state's three electronic voting systems made by ES&S (Election Systems & Software), Hart Intercivic and Premier Election Solutions (formerly Diebold). Testing was done on each system's performance, configuration and operations and internal controls management.

Researchers had access to the computer source code provided by the voting machine manufacturers along with access to most of the equipment and documentation. According to the report, "fairly simple techniques" were often used by the testers to compromise the voting systems.

"To put it in every day terms, the tools needed to compromise an accurate vote count could be as simple as tampering with the paper audit trail connector or using a magnet and a personal digital assistant," Brunner said when the report was released.

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