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Democrats want election machine firm thrown out

News Herald

COLUMBUS -- Democratic leaders want a major Republican fund-raiser blocked from becoming the state's new voting machines supplier, saying his presence puts in doubt the fairness of all Ohio elections.

Wally O'Dell, CEO of Diebold Inc., this week sent out letters to central Ohio Republicans asking them to raise $10,000 in donations in time for a Sept. 26 Ohio Republican Party event at his home.

His company, which specializes in security and election machinery, is one of three under consideration to supply new, electronic voting machines to replace punch card machines still in use in 71 Ohio counties.

House Minority Leader Chris Redfern, D-Catawba Island, and Senate Minority Leader Greg DiDonato, D-New Philadelphia, on Tuesday petitioned Secretary of State Ken Blackwell to drop O'Dell's company from the list of potential suppliers, saying his presence could undermine Ohio's entire election system.

"The whole point of this upgrade is to ensure fairness," Redfern said. "The inevitable appearance here is of a pay-to-play system."

In his invitation O'Dell states his support for the Republican Party and notes he is "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the President next year."

Redfern said letting O'Dell supply the machines for that election after making such a bold statement would be foolish.

Blackwell's office accused the Democrats of injecting party politics into a fair and open process.

"Secretary Blackwell has worked very hard to keep the process free of partisan influence," said Carlo LoParo, spokesman for Blackwell. "Redfern and DiDonato want to exclude someone ... simply because they don't like their politics. That is disgraceful."

LoParo said Blackwell will not attend O'Dell's event and will not benefit from his fund-raising, since all of the money will be earmarked for federal elections.

But LoParo insisted that none of that was even considered by Blackwell during the bidding process, and that his office is confident the process was free from favoritism.

Upgrading the voting machines has proven to be problematic for Blackwell. Last week he announced having the machines in place for next March's primary will be impossible because of security concerns with the new technology and funding delays in paying for the equipment.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a federal suit saying punch-card machines are unfair and must be done away with before the March primary.

And a potential supplier eliminated from consideration -- Sequoia Voting Systems -- has sued Blackwell's office over its dismissal from the process.

The Sequoia lawsuit has prevented Blackwell from releasing information about the bidding process and three potential suppliers, but LoParo said that information will be made public once the legal issue is resolved.

"This has been a well-documented and comprehensive bid process," he said. "We invite the highest level of scrutiny."

Redfern said the least Blackwell should do is ask O'Dell to cancel the fund-raising event.

"For appearances sake the best thing we can do is to remove Diebold from the process," he said. "Otherwise we risk giving Ohioans the impression that our very election process itself is unfair."
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