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Ohio Senate OKs $115 million to help counties replace voting machines

(April 13, 2018) — Ohio counties are one step closer to getting nearly $115 million for new voting machines.

Senate Bill 135, introduced by Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Hudson, would provide $114.5 million for the replacement of voting machines across the state. The bill was passed by a 32-1 vote on Wednesday, with Sen. Kris Jordan, R-Ostrander, dissenting.

Most Ohio voting machines date from 2005 or 2006, paid for mostly with about $115 million in federal money through the Help America Vote Act. Around half of Ohio’s counties use paper ballots that are optically scanned, and half use touch-screen voting. Ohio’s voting machines are not permitted to be connected to the internet, and the state’s touch-screen ballots are required to have a traceable paper trail that can be audited.

“It’s very good for Ohio voters,” said Aaron Ockerman, executive director of the Ohio Association of Election Officials. “It’s going to modernize our election systems.”

Ockerman said his organization has worked for about five years to get legislation in the Statehouse.

“Ohio is a national leader in elections administration because we focus on making our state a place where it is easy to vote and hard to cheat,” Secretary of State Jon Husted said. “To maintain that status, we must continue to modernize by investing in innovation, and that means replacing our voting machines.”

Counties will choose their type of equipment. They initially would get a payment of between $205,000 and $406,000 to help with start-up costs. The rest of the money would be given to counties on a per-voter basis. And $10 million would be set aside to pay counties that have bought new voting machines since 2014.

“We cannot allow Ohio’s future elections to be compromised due to failing voting machines,” said LaRose, who is running for secretary of state. “This issue needs to be addressed now before major technical issues disrupt the integrity of our elections.”

Officials with the Franklin County Board of Elections estimate the board would receive around $10.47 million from the bill, spokesman Aaron Sellers said. He said the board hopes to decide on new voting machines this summer, with the cost ranging from $16 million to $30 million depending on the type.

“The Board of Elections is working with the county commissioners to fund any additional costs that exceed the amount provided by the state,” Sellers said.

The bill also would create a bipartisan committee to advise the secretary of state and the Department of Administrative Services about funding and acquiring new voting machines.

The legislation now moves to the House, where Finance Committee Chairman Ryan Smith, R-Bidwell, said he hopes the measure will be approved before lawmakers leave for summer break next month.