No issue with Belmont Co. voting machines

BELMONT Co. – Although many counties throughout Ohio are raising concern about their nearly decade-old voting machines, Belmont County appears to be just fine.

Touchscreen voting machines, or DREs (direct-recording electronics) are the latest technology at the polls, but these machines tend to wear out more quickly than optical scan machines, which are an older technology.

Optical scanners function through discerning the dark marks on a ballot that the voter has filled in. It is the same technology used to grade the multiple choice portions of state mandated tests.

Further down the list is the punch-card system which Belmont County used from 1976 until 2005, following the commotion this system caused in the Florida elections. Currently, the county has a hybrid system of the DRE touchscreen machines and optical scan machines.

Every polling place is required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to be equipped with at least one machine to accommodate disabled voters. There are currently 274 touchscreen machines in Belmont County which fulfill this requirement, but many voters in the next election will opt for the paper ballot that is used with the optical scan machines instead.

Voters like the option of being able to vote with a paper ballot. The Belmont County Board of Elections found that even with the DRE voting machines, it would use just as many paper ballots.

“Touch screen machines work quite well, but we have to have the same amount of paper ballots anyway,” said William Shubat, Director of the Belmont County Board of Elections.

“We changed over about two years ago,” Shubat said. “We went to St. Clairsville and changed to paper ballots there, and it worked very well. After that, we tried it in Martins Ferry, and everyone there liked it a lot. So we implemented it across the county.”

Because voters seem to prefer using the paper ballots, the touchscreen machines in the county are not used as much and should wear out much less quickly than the same machines would in Columbus, for example.

“Our machines are still working,” Shubat said. “They’re all in good working order.”

Shubat stated that the county spent approximately $600,000 on their 274 DRE machines, but he did not know what the current price would be to upgrade or replace them.

“For the time being, we will stick with the paper ballots and using the touchscreen for ADA requirements,” he said.

A large majority of voting machines throughout Ohio are expected to be okay for the next election. However, concern is being raised because many counties cannot afford to upgrade or replace their current systems, and it is a problem which could rear its head in the not-too-distant future.

Scott may be reached at jscott@timesleaderonline.com.