Staff Writer

JEFFERSON -- New tabulating machines will make their debut in Tuesday's primary election, but experts believe less than a third of Ashtabula County's registered voters will take them for a spin.

A ballot light on hot-button races and big money issues probably means a low turnout for the primary election.

County election officials estimate 18,000 people will go to the polls, a fraction of the 60,700 voters eligible to cast a ballot, said Arthur Vensel, election board deputy director.

Voters will firm up slates for the November election in a number of state races, including governor. County candidates for the fall election will also be determined, as well as the fate of several money issues, including three school levies, an Ashtabula Senior Center measure and a county Metroparks issue.

Villages and townships also have numerous issues on their ballots.

Polls are open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

On the front lines of Tuesday's primary will stand 85 new optical scan tabulating machines, a $1 million investment made to help the county comply with federal voting laws. The equipment replaces the punch card system used for many years.

Voters will use a black ink pen to fill in circles next to their choices, then will feed the ballot into the scanning machine. Special machines for voters with vision problems or disabilities will also be available.

Earlier this month, the county trained more than 500 precinct workers on the use of the machines, Vensel said.

"The training went pretty good," he said. "Everybody's raring to go."

Personnel from Election Systems and Software, the vendor, will be on hand Tuesday to monitor the balloting, Vensel said. Also, the county will have six technicians stationed in sections of the county to help troubleshoot any problems.

Officials are optimistic, but some headaches are inevitable, Vensel said.

"This is something new," he said. "There's going to be growing pains."

The machines will be transported to the polling places Monday afternoon, Vensel said.

Officials said Tuesday's low-key election may actually help the voting machines' maiden voyage.

"It gives us a little room to breathe," Vensel said. "We wouldn't want to do this at the last presidential election."

In a handful of races, Republicans and Democrats will use Tuesday's election to decide their November candidates. Highlights of Tuesday's election include:


* Governor -- GOP choices include Attorney General Jim Petro and Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, while Democrats will choose between Ted Strickland, a congressman, or Bryan Flannery, a former state representative.

* Treasurer -- Republicans will choose between incumbent Jennette Bradley or Sandra O'Brien, Ashtabula County auditor, to oppose Democrat Richard Cordray in the fall

* Attorney general -- GOP candidate are State Sen. Tim Grendell and state auditor Betty Montgomery, while the Democrat choices are State Sen. Marc Dann and Subodh Chandra, former Cleveland law director

*Ohio Supreme Court -- Two seats on the bench are at stake in November, and four Democrats are seeking the slots. William O'Neill and A.J. Wagner will square off Tuesday for the right to challenge incumbent Judge Terrence O'Donnell; while Ben Espy and Peter Sikora are vying for the chance to oppose Robert Cupp.

County/Regional Races

* Ashtabula County auditor -- Democrat contenders are Roger Corlett and Jon Serena, while Republican candidates are Rockford Benson and Margie Bort

* State Representative (99th district) -- Republicans William Pikor and Donald Rogers are vying for the chance to challenge incumbent George Distel in the fall

* 11th District Court of Appeals -- Dorothy Henry Lee, Jeffrey Black and Paul Brickner are Republican candidates for the seat to be vacated by retiring Judge Donald Ford. Democrat hopefuls are Mary Jane Trapp and Albert Purola. Thomas Harris, Conneaut Municipal Court judge and Democrat, is unopposed in his bid to unseat incumbent Judge Diane Grendell in November.

Money Issues

* School levies -- Issues include a 6-mill renewal of Jefferson Area Local School district's operating levy; a half-mill permanent improvement levy to help the Ashtabula Area City Schools district launch the second phase of its building improvement program; and a 1.9-mill permanent improvement replacement levy for the Buckeye Local Schools district.

* Ashtabula County Metroparks -- A 0.4-mill operating levy would help the Ashtabula County Metroparks District expand its land holdings and hire a professional staff

* Ashtabula Senior Center -- A renewal of the center's 0.3-mill levy to assist social programs designed for seniors. This issue will appear on Ashtabula ballots only.

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