Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Secretary of State Brunner speaks at City Club

Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner spoke at the City Club of Cleveland today, telling the audience what she's done to improve the state's voting system and make sure Ohio isn't a "pariah" among states after the election is over.

She's banned "sleepovers," some poll workers' old habit of taking voting machines home with them the weekend before the election. She'd learned 23 Ohio counties were still allowing it, as a way to help transport the machines to the polls. "Yeah. You can close your jaws now," Brunner told the shocked audience. Sleepovers earned Ohio a lot of mockery this year, including a mention on the NPR comedy game show "Whad'Ya Know?"

She rolled out the sleepover ban as part of the state's new "best practices" for voting security, from ways to keep vote-counting computer servers secure to how to safely transport ballots, voting machines, poll books and memory cards.

Brunner, an opponent of touchscreen voting systems, still has to help 53 Ohio counties use them in November. She promised rigorous testing of the systems.

(Hopefully it will be enough to relieve fans of The Simpsons, who'll be treated to a voting joke in an upcoming episode: Homer tries to vote for Obama, then makes a crack about Ohio as the voting machine eats him. Tragically, this clip is no longer on YouTube.)

In December, Brunner cast the tie-breaking vote to replace Cuyahoga County's touchscreens with paper ballots. "I'm sorry to say I was not able to fight hard enough or long enough to pay for your change in Cuyahoga County," she said (meaning she couldn't get the Republican legislature to fund it). She thanked the county commissioners for footing the $13.4 million bill.

Brunner did a Sarah Palin imitation as part of a joke about her successful fight to preserve a week, Sept. 30 to Oct. 6, when Ohioans could register to vote and cast an early ballot at the same time. Can Ohioans do that? she asked rhetorically. "I can answer it two ways: 'You betcha!'" -- and she winked, like Palin in last week's debate -- "and 'Yes We Can!'" -- imitating Obama and his favorite slogan.

After the talk, I asked if she's seen any early signs of whether there will be mass voter challenges in Ohio, as there were in 2004. She mentioned a new lawsuit by the state Republican Party over people registered with incorrect driver's license numbers or social security numbers. She suggested it might be a prelude to challenges, which can be filed up until Oct. 16.

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