Counties like Butler must print and keep thousands of election ballots that are never used

Advances in technology enabled voters to cast votes electronically, but local elections offices must still print and store tens of thousands of paper ballots each election that are never used.

Butler County’s touch-screen system “drastically lowers” the required number of ballots needed to be ordered, but nearly 90 percent of those printed ballots ordered for the 2016 presidential election were not used, said Eric Corbin, Butler County Board of Elections deputy director.

“As a DRE (direct-recording electronic voting machine) county, this burden is real but is not as much of a burden as is placed on counties that vote entirely on paper,” Corbin said. “As we are looking to replace our voting system this year, we have considered the costs and storage issues that would come along with a paper based voting system.”

RELATED: Electronic or paper? Butler County elections board weighs decision that will cost millions

After the last presidential election in 2016, Butler County stored 44,880 unused ballots out of 50,645 ordered, according to requested election records from four area counties. Montgomery County had a similar ratio, as it stored 78,896 unused ballots out of 85,050 that were ordered, as did Green County, which stored 44,180 unused ballots out of 45,304 that were ordered. Clark County’s ratio was just more than 60 percent as they stored 62,450 unused ballots out of 102,850 that were ordered.

“The printing of thousands of ballots that never get used and have to be stored, it’s inefficient, costly and wasteful,” said John Caupp, elections board chairman in Greene County, where voters primarily use touch-screen devices to cast votes.

Ohio law requires elections offices to print ballots based on the number of registered voters in the county, even if that county is using touch-screen devices. State law requires any unused ballots to be stored in climate-controlled conditions for 22 months after federal elections and 60 days for non-federal elections.

In Greene County, “most precincts used 10 or fewer, and many used none at all,” said Llyn McCoy, Greene’s elections director. In Montgomery County, those 2016 ballots were destroyed in September 2018 after the required storage time was met, according to Elections Director Jan Kelly.

Kelly said the printing, storage and ultimate destruction of unused ballots is “a necessary evil that none of us elections officials like.”

“It’s the responsibility of elections boards to never run out of ballots,” Kelly said. “If you think it’s expensive to run a good election, think of the cost to run a bad one.”

RELATED: Paper ballots likely to replace touchscreen voting for many area voters

Storing ballots has been a challenge at the Greene County Board of Elections because of limited space.

Local elections offices are considering buying new voting equipment that’s being offered by a handful of state-certified vendors. In addition to new touch-screen and optical-scan systems, officials are looking at hybrid systems, in which voters have the choice to vote on paper or electronically.

McCoy said if Greene County switched to a paper ballot system, the state would require elections boards to order enough ballots for 101 percent of the registered voters.

“With the optical scan … we don’t have room to store the scanners … We don’t have room to store the paper ballots,” she said. “With the voting equipment and paper ballots, we can’t just store in any old place in the county because it has to be under Democratic and Republican control … It has to be climate-controlled.”

In Clark County, where a paper ballot/optical scan system is used, it cost nearly $30,000 to order all the ballots for the 2016 presidential election, but approximately 61 percent of the ballots ordered were never used, according to Jason Baker, Clark’s elections board director.

Baker said they believe in paper ballots “for the purposes of recounts and risk-limiting audits.”

“While we don’t really like spending money every election on more ballots that will not likely be used, we also understand the reason behind the practice and the importance of making sure every person who wishes to cast a ballot is able to do so,” Baker said.

In November, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office issued guidelines to counties that are considering purchasing new voting systems.

The report cautions county elections boards to have “a sufficient amount” of machines, paper ballots and ballot stock — the blank paper on which ballots are printed.

“Courts have held election results void when a polling location does not have sufficient ballots for the number of eligible electors who wish to cast a vote during an election prior to the closing of the polls,” the report reads.


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