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Franklin County Seeks Ways To Reduce Voter Waiting Lines.

Later this week, the Franklin County Board of Elections seeks public comment on a plan to reduce waiting times at polling places in November. The board recently spent 30-thousand dollars to study allocation of voting machines in hopes of avoiding a repeat of the 2004 presidential election when some voters waited for hours to cast a ballot. WOSU's Tom Borgerding reports.

Franklin County suffered a political black eye in 2004. Long lines at some precincts in Columbus deterred thousands from casting ballots. Consultant and Ohio State University faculty member, Ted Allen, says his company, Sagata Limited, was given what he called "unprecendented access" to voting data to reduce the potential of long lines this November.

"And its partly, because, you know, they're smart people who were burned before in a kind of spectacular way." Says Allen.

In 2004, at poll closing times, Allen says it took an additional five hours in some precincts before the last voter in line cast a ballot. Thousands of others either left the lines or never went to the polls because of reports of long lines.

"And we used two or three different approaches based on regression to estimate that between 20,000 and 30,000 people were deterred from voting because of the long lines."

Allen says a majority of those votes would likely have gone to Democratic candidate John Kerry. While the 2004 election is still being studied and in some cases litigated, Franklin County Board of Elections Director Michael Stinziano says he's keen to avoid a repeat. Franklin County currently has an estimated 804,000 eligible voters. As a result, the board's consultant says long waiting lines in November are again a "serious likelihood."

"The expectation is, there's going to be, from the Secretary of State's office, upwards of 80 percent voter turn-out. Because of that, the study was meant to address those concerns from the 2004 presidential election and allocate machines on a more quantitative measurement than just based per population and by the Ohio Revised Code statute." Says Stinziano.

An 80% turn-out in Franklin County would mean nearly 640,000 electors will cast ballots in November. The board has 1,600 more voting machines than it did in 2004 and its encouraging voters to cast absentee ballots before election day. But, Stinziano still anticipates waiting times on November 4th.

"I think ideally a voting time when there's 80% turn-out and nine issues is going to be somewhere between a half hour and an hour. Ideally we'd like to see voting lines less than 20 minutes." Says Stinziano.

Deputy Director Matthew Damschroder says the stakes in this November's election will be similar to those in 2004.

"All expectations for 2008 are that Ohio will be a battleground state. And, as in 2004 Franklin County will be the battleground county of the battleground state. So, we're doing everything we can to make sure that we're ready for election day." Says Damschroder.

Consultant Allen says with the help of statistical analysis, mock elections, and application of line theory, the board of election goes into November 2008 well-informed.

"I mean we know almost everything there is to know about how long it takes people to vote on this equipment. We know alot about the breakdowns, when they happen, how often they happen, so that's another variable that we can put in our simulations. We know about when people like to vote in Franklin County and where they like to vote at different times."

Allen says turn-out issues are probably the biggest uncertainty. The Board will conduct a public hearing on its voting machine allocation report on Thursday at 6:30 p.m.

Tom Borgerding WOSU News