I-Team: Millions Lost in Voting System Sale

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CLEVELAND - The FOX 8 I-Team has learned that Cuyahoga County recently sold thousands of its touch-screen voting machines for less than a penny on the dollar.

And, believe it or not, that's the good news: thousands of other machines had their parts recycled or scrapped.

The county paid a company nearly $6,000 just to dispose of those machines.

The saga of how parts of a $21 million purchase could wind up being sold for pennies, or simply scrapped, starts with a disputed presidential election and ends seven years later with a computer system freezing up as it tried to count votes in a Cuyahoga County election.

In 2000, George W. Bush won the presidency over Al Gore, but only after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling regarding controversial voting procedures in Florida.

Congress then ordered that, over time, states had to dump the punch card voting system that Florida had used.

Cuyahoga County chose to go to a touch-screen system made by Diebold that was easy to use and saved millions in paper costs because it didn't require printed ballots to operate.

"(The system) works in large counties, small counties, and they haven't had a problem with it across the country," said Bob Bennett, the state's GOP chairman who was also chairman of the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections at the time.

Bennett says the system had problems, but he attributes them to "the support systems from the vendor."

Whether the county didn't get enough support from Diebold, or whether the system had inherent problems, it froze when trying to count votes during an election in November of 2007.

Jane Platten, who at the time was new to her job as the county's elections board director and who had inherited the system, remembers the night well.

"You know," she said, "you have a moment when your knees buckle."

Platten says the system couldn't handle the volume of votes that were being fed into it at once. All the votes were eventually counted.

Afterward, then Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner ordered Cuyahoga County to switch to a paper ballot system.

Suddenly, the county had no use for over 6,000 touch screen machines that it paid $2,700 apiece to buy.

It recently sold 843 of the machines for $100 apiece, and 2,102 of the machines for $12.50 apiece.

The rest were recycled or scrapped.

Diebold paid $7.5 million in a settlement with the county, and agreed to provide $440,000 worth of other services.

All total, including accessories, the county lost about $13 million on the system.

"There was no way around it," Platten said, "because we needed a system we could rely on, and unfortunately, that meant getting ride of the old system that we paid a lot of money for."

We contacted Diebold about this story.

The company says it is out of the voting system business in the United States.

Diebold says it understands there is a legacy to its voting systems, but that it does not distract the company from its core businesses of providing ATMs and security systems.

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