Paper ballots may replace touchscreen voting for Butler County voters

A new generation of voting machines may soon be on the way thanks to a bill signed by Gov. John Kasich, which will allow $114.5 million to be distributed among Ohio’s 88 counties.

“New” generation, however, may mean taking a step back in time. Voters in 41 counties, including Butler, Montgomery and Greene, have been using direct-recording electronic voting machines, or DREs, which requires the use of a touchscreen. But now, more counties are considering using paper ballots, as no DRE machine is currently certified for use in Ohio.

That leaves many counties looking at a switch to paper ballots and optical-scanning equipment to count ballots, or hybrid systems coming at more than twice the price that employ touchscreens to mark a paper ballot.

“I know people think that’s going backwards,” Butler County Board of Elections Director Diane Noonan said. “But you have to look at these machines and understand that paper is not what they think it is.”

Warren, Preble and Clark counties already use paper ballots.

Nationwide, 47 percent of American registered voters in November 2016 lived in jurisdictions using only optical-scan technology that requires voters to fill in bubbles, complete arrows or make other machine-readable marks on paper; 28 percent lived in DRE-only jurisdictions; another 19 percent lived in jurisdictions where both were used, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of Verified Voting Foundation data.

According to Butler County Commissioner Don Dixon, DRE machines actually pose more of a security risk, leaving votes susceptible to hacking. What is most helpful when it comes to the voting process, he said, is having some sort of paper trail.

“(Voting) is the basis that runs our whole form of government, so you have to be able to reassure people that you’re correct,” Dixon said. “If that means producing a paper trail, it sure makes people feel a lot better.”

Last year, the Butler County Board of Elections looked at five possible vendors for their new voting machines, and has since narrowed it down to two.

Right now much of the decision is up in the air, Noonan said. Choosing a new voting system will depend mostly on the funds available to purchase them.

“We have to go back and see how the pricing comes out. Get our numbers together and figure out exactly what system we want to go with,” Noonan said.

The recently signed bill will give the county $3.12 million, but it won’t determine the overall cost of the systems Butler County chooses.

Montgomery County Board of Elections Director Jan Kelly said it’s possible Montgomery county might purchase two types of voting machines, the first a hybrid machine that could be used for early voting at the BOE office, and then paper ballots for the separate precincts. Noonan agrees that this might be Butler County’s strategy as well.

Choosing new voting machines is a long process, but it has to be done, according to Butler County Administrator Charlie Young. In the end, all 1,600 of Butler County’s machines will be replaced.

“We have to put in a place a system that has the confidence of the voters and is simple and straightforward as it can be,” Young said. “I hope that the voters of Butler County will share the belief that whatever we have to do in order to utilize new systems, we will do.”

This article contains additional reporting by staff writer Chris Stewart.

About the Author