COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio's elections chief is reconsidering a plan to prohibit poll workers from taking voting machines home for safekeeping in the days before the November presidential election.
Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner announced plans in February to scrap the practice known as "sleepovers" because of security concerns. But her proposal is being attacked by county elections officials who argue that the custom makes it easier to transport machines to polling sites.
"She has listened to the concerns of election officials and ultimately wants to do what is best for their process but also make sure that all safety precautions are considered," Brunner spokesman Patrick Gallaway said Wednesday.
Brunner has frequently referred to a Licking County poll worker who took a machine home for safekeeping and improperly voted on it, fearing there wouldn't be enough time on Election Day.
Election officials say safeguards prevent such a tampered machine from being used at the polls because it would not have the required vote tally of "zero" before voting began.
Sleepovers are prevalent in Ohio counties that use touch-screen voting machines and are sometimes used in counties with machines that scan paper ballots. The practice enables poll workers to pick up voting machines and other equipment such as memory cards in the days before the election, keep them at home and then take them to polling locations on Election Day.
Without sleepovers, counties would likely have to hire a company to distribute the voting machines, said Keith Cunningham, director of the Allen County Board of Elections and past president of the Ohio Association of Election Officials. That would cost several thousand dollars, and some counties can't afford it, he said.
Counties also would have to test the machines as much as a week earlier so the movers could transport them in time for the election, Cunningham said.
"It would be logistically impossible for the counties having large numbers of machines to deliver, set up and test all their machines on election morning," Ashland County Board of Elections Director Shannon Leininger wrote in a May 7 e-mail to Brunner.
Brunner has invited local officials to suggest potential alternatives to banning sleepovers. A decision will be made in the next few weeks, Gallaway said.
One alternative would be to lock voting machines inside polling places for a few days, Cunningham said.
"You got two choices — you're either going to have a machine unattended at a polling location for a few days or you are going to have a machine in the hands of a poll worker," he said. "Pick your poison."