Ohio Wins Poll-Worker Training Funds, Voting Problems Persist in Cuyahoga County

ePluribus Media Ohio News Bureau

ONB Columbus: It’s unfortunate that Ohio had to wait until the November general elections were over before winning a poll-worker training grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts (PCT). The grant initiative will fund an online training program for poll workers and state and local-election officials that will hopefully make them more competent and capable in their jobs on Election Day.

The Ohio Controlling Board (CB), a bi-partisan legislative panel that monitors certain agency spending and fund transfers, approved the PCT poll-worker training grant in mid November, but it was too late to have prevented many poll worker performance errors that surfaced across the state when voters came to the polls earlier this month.

But now that the $60,000 PCT grant initiative is on its way, it’s good news going forward for the 47,000 plus poll workers who show up at Ohio's 11,360 voting precincts.

Meanwhile, other voting system problems persist, including recent news that Cuyahoga County (CC), the 2004 poster child for what can go wrong in presidential elections with electronic voting equipment, is still full of problems that some critics are calling on Jennifer Brunner to finally wise up to the madness of the machines and do away with them before it all blows up again next year, when presidential turnout is expected to be sky high.

OHIO AND PEW TEAM UP TO TRAIN POLL WORKERS

The SOS request to the CB to receive the Pew poll-worker training grant initiative will entail using HAVA Partners, a Silver Spring, Maryland, company to “develop, implement and offer to boards of elections an online training program for poll workers and to test its impact on poll worker performance at the polling place.” Ohio’s funding share comes from its federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funds.

The testing portion of the initiative, according to the SOS filing, is supported through a $128,600 contract between the Pew Charitable Trusts and HAVA Partners. Pew's “Make Voting Work” project is an initiative of its Center on the States designed to help modernize elections by advancing policies, practices and technologies that make voting convenient for eligible voters without compromising accuracy or integrity. Ohio’s SOS had no input in their partner because the company was selected by Pew for this project due to its expertise in developing online training for poll workers in the United States.

”HAVA Partners will customize a learning management system for Ohio poll workers. They will obtain final content for the poll worker training curriculum from the Secretary of State, modify it for web presentation, create simulations where necessary, and develop voting equipment tutorials. The training website will be launched in January and supported through the March primary election.”

“Working with local election officials, poll workers will be identified in Delaware and Butler counties. A testing instrument to be taken by poll workers will be drafted, and data to be tracked on election day will be identified. The online training program may be used by all Ohio counties, and Delaware and Butler counties have been selected for the Pew supported evaluation of the online training program.”

Researchers selected by HAVA Partners, LLC, from the University of Cincinnati and Brigham Young University's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy will conduct the evaluation which will determine the extent to which an online poll worker training course, taken in addition to the traditional face-to-face training session, can improve poll worker confidence and performance on Election Day.”

Adding to the mix of poll workers with an average age of 72 will be high school students. As a result of Ohio legislation passed last year, students who are at least 17 years old and work as Election Day technicians will be paid $250 per election, while regular poll workers make do with their $172 compensation.

VOTING MACHINE PROBLEMS IN CUYAHOGA COUNTY PERSIST;

In a recent article in The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer(CPD)about Brunner’s call to allow boards of elections to reprint paper records for recounts, she said this about the link between technology and voting rights:

"We don't ever want a situation where the technology impedes the ability to get the will of the people."

It's a good sound bite, and is so sanctimoniously safe that it defies challenge. But from the perspective of many, that ship has clearly sailed, leaving Brunner floating in choppy waters. Technology has repeatedly impeded the ability to get the will of the people, as old 2004 election critics contend and current ones like Brad Friedman at the Brad Blog, a leading national Website for election and voting matters, who wonders why the lawyer and former judge, who seems to not be able to see any further than right in front of her, hasn’t learned from what her California colleague, Secretary of State Debra Bowen, and Florida Governor Charlie Crist have done, namely, get rid of them. Does she know something they don’t – or visa versa?

WILL BRUNNER’S REVIEW OF VOTING MACHINES DEFEND OR DEBUNK THEM?

Brunner’s spending of $1.8 million to do a “top to bottom” review of Ohio’s voting system seems to be an effort to defend rather than debunk the performance of electronic machines, which will only continue to place the blame for botched elections on election officials and poll workers.

And we learned again today from the CPD, 20 percent of Cuyahoga County’s election printouts were unreadable.

”More than 20 percent of the printouts from touch-screen voting machines were unreadable and had to be reprinted. Board of Elections (BOE) workers found the damaged ballots when they conducted a recount Tuesday of two races, which involved only 17 of the county's 1,436 precincts. [CPD]

So here’s a perfect example of technology impeding the will of the voters just days after Brunner said that won’t be tolerated. Even though it took 12 hours that included hand-counting the damaged but reprinted records, its unacceptable that two years after the voting debacle in 2004 such mechanical problems still exist. But once again, no state official is pointing a finger at the machines or their makers.

Even one of the county’s top Democratic commissioners, a long-time opponent of touch screen voting systems, offered severe misgivings with what just happened at his county board of election, whose funding comes through his office.

"If it is as close as it's been for the last two presidential elections and it's that close again in 2008, God help us if we have to depend on Cuya- hoga County (CC) as the deciding factor with regard to making the decision on who the next president of the United States is." Jimmy Dimora, Cuyahoga County Commissioner, CPD]

Jane Platten, director of the CC Board of Elections, told the CPD that “recounting the entire county for the 2008 presidential election could take more than a week.”

"The high number of paper audit trails that need to be reprinted was at best a difficult task to have to work through. I think that's going to be an indication of future recounts." [Jane Platten, CC BOE, CPD]

John Michael Spinelli is a former Ohio Statehouse government and political reporter and business columnist. He now serves as the OhioNews Bureau Chief for ePluribus Media Journal.

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