Democrats Tell Ohio Official to Quit Probe

The Associated Press
Monday, May 8, 2006; 9:40 PM

CLEVELAND -- Democrats called Monday for the secretary of state to remove himself from an investigation into widespread voting problems that plagued last week's primary election in Ohio's largest county.

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern said Kenneth Blackwell should step aside because of conflicts of interest. His office is responsible for the rules that govern county election boards, which reported problems such as poll workers who failed to show up and others who did not know how to turn on new electronic voting machines.

Blackwell, who is also the Republican gubernatorial candidate, has asked the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections for an investigation of the glitches that arose during the county's first attempt to use electronic touch-screen and optical-scan voting machines.

The board, which met Monday for the first time since the primary, said an independent committee would investigate and issue a report by July 15.

James Lee, a spokesman for the secretary of state's office, called Redfern's statement "a silly request."

"The people of Ohio twice elected Ken Blackwell to serve as secretary of state," Lee said Monday. "He will continue to serve."

U.S. Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, a Cleveland Democrat, said Blackwell should have no role in the investigation, particularly since he owns stock in Diebold Inc., makers of the voting machines used in the primary.

In April, Blackwell acknowledged that the investment house Credit Suisse First Boston bought for his account 178 shares of stock in Diebold, the Ohio company that makes the electronic voting machines that were used last week in half of Ohio's 88 counties, including Cuyahoga County. He said the purchase took place without his knowledge.

During the primary, new optical-scan machines produced inconsistent tabulations, forcing officials to hand-count more than 18,000 paper ballots. The counting was not complete until Sunday night, leaving several local races in limbo for days. The outcome of one race for state representative was reversed.

Questions remain whether the equipment or the paper ballots, or both, were to blame, said Michael Vu, the county's elections director.

Diebold has said that paper ballots printed by the county did not have the proper coding required for the scanners.

In West Virginia, six counties have decided not to use new electronic voting machines in that state's primary on Tuesday, either because the machines did not work or officials did not get software fixes in time to conduct tests. The counties had planned to use iVotronic touch-screen machines made by Election Systems & Software, Inc. of Omaha, Neb.

© 2006 The Associated Press