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Thoughts from former Board of Elections administrator

To the editor:

As a retired elections administrator for the Columbiana County Board of Elections this is a communique that I thought I would never consider to write with reference to the non-stop nonsense of how fraud and ballot tampering occurred nationwide in the last election. The false narratives keep looping through the social media and in some public medias.

In this Great Experiment we as citizens must accept tht democracy is fragile, and all of us need to keep alert and working to protect, preserve and keep it functioning as tritely stated “elections have consequences.” Our Founding Fathers disagreed on aspects of the Constitution from the start as George Washington recognized that differences of opinion will always be present in America, but he had stated that public service should always be conducted with civility with regard to influencing facts of racial, economic, social, regional and political differences. The ugly truths brought us the Civil War.

The “hanging chad” punch card debacle in Florida in 2000 was the watershed to look at voting systems that would have a greater trustworthiness and reliability.

In the summer of 2005, I, John Payne was asked by Ohio Secretary of State (SOS) Ken Blackwell, along with one other director of elections to serve on a task panel in Columbus with SOS staff to examine and evaluate various voting systems to eventually replace the punch card voting system in Ohio.

I was honored by humbled to serve as this was a significant task placed upon me and the other director as we served on the front line of elections while looking into the future of what was going to happen in Oho to move all 88 counties into new options on voting systems. The task panel spent days in a secure room in the SOS Office Complex critiquing various touch screens and optical scan voting systems.

My personal recommendation was to go with the optical scan because it provided a paper ballot and paper trail that could be counted and verified in the unlikely events a scanner in a polling place would fail.

As a result, the secretary of state permitted each county the option to select the optical scan or the touch screen voting system. In my evaluation I recognized an uneasy feeling with the touch screen as votes were recorded on a “cash register paper tape” inside the machine, and in my opinion it would be cumbersome to physically unroll a tape for a recount. I may add that after some counties went with touch screen they still had to print ballots for absentees and precincts. There was no cost savings.

Upon my return from the task panel from Columbus, I recommended that Columbiana County contract with an optical scan voting system, which the board saw as the most appropriate option.

My concern: Some of the social media sectors are inveighing about the 2020 election that there was a systematic ballot tampering and voting software manipulation across the county. One would have to have a willing suspension of disbelief to believe the Democratic and Republican election officials in 3,143 counties and the District of Columbia would communicate sub rosa to coordinate to “rig” an election to favor any candidate or issue on a ballot.

Get real as “that ain’t going to happen.” My years of experience with election officials in other Ohio counties an in other states has been one of trust, professionalism, transparency, and being forthright in the dedication and honoring the oath that all of have taken to support the Constitution and the laws of our respective states. The odds that D’s and R’s would use concerted efforts to corrupt the programming of a voting system would be like me climbing up Pikes Peak and have an eagle flying overhead to open his talons to drop a salmon on my head.

Free and fair elections are the lifeblood of democracy. Computer programming for elections and ballot layout go through multiple checkpoints by both political parties in Ohio in compliance with rules and regulations of the state in preparation for each local, state and federal election. Audits and test runs are conducted before an election to verify for each precinct the completeness and accuracy of ballot layout for spelling, wording, grammar, and legal language before getting the final approval by the Ohio Secretary of State. Draft printed ballots are fully examined for proper precinct rotation by multiple people before setting the green light for printing. Ballots are safely secured in the board office. Absentee applications are recorded and safely stored. The board advertises for a public demonstration of the current ballot counting procedure before every election for public viewing.

It has been my observation and experience that voting is largely an emotional response on how the individual voter expresses an opinion, feeling and/or belief toward or against a candidate or issue. Political polarization is now very much in the open and rampant, but it has always been in the U.S. Since the Constitution was written over different perceptions on the elements inside the wording of the document. There are literally thousands of books and research papers written on human behavior and psychological framework, and belief system along with the day-to-day coping skills of life.

Psychologists report that people want to view and live in a world that is predictable rather than chaotic. That being said people have the tendency to perceive what is complex and/or wrong to shift into what satisfies their particular bias and control. Reactions to a perceived fear is a motivation for seeking control to fit to extinguish the fear they perceive.. The book “Hillbilly Elegy” is a classic account in human study. Some people refuse to see the truth and that is why there is a Flat Earth Society in the U.S. Today.

There are sectors of the social media touching nerves to dispute the results of the 2020 election nationwide. There are charges of fraud in voting, and I can state in my 14 years as an election official in Columbiana County there is not one case or issue with voter fraud. On Election Day, I always stated the county had the best detective agency working the poll as hundreds of poll workers, who did not let anything like fraud to occur as the collective group, knew about every voter who came to vote. Provisional ballot were issued if there was a doubt, but voters did get the opportunity to vote.

Social media has been a two-edged sword for truth and lies as falsehoods flow like an open hydrant at times. We will always be a country of differences, but it is imperative to be critical thinks to ferret out the lies. It has been shown that if a lie is told many times and not consistently debunked it has a way of being rationalized and accepted to reduce a fear. While there are proven cases where foreign entities have visited voter registration records, there is absolutely no way anyone can hack a voting system in Ohio because they are not on the internet. We need to establish institutional trustworthiness.

It was an honor to serve with the Columbiana County Board of Elections as I extend my appreciation to the past and present board members as well to Lois Gall, Jan Mollenkopf, Mary Appeldorn and Mary Alice Cupp.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge stated that, “in politics, what begins in fear usually ends in folly.”

JOHN H. PAYNE,

Madison Township

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