David Rodeback's Blog

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Friday, June 30, 2006
Notes from Ohio

Natural gas bills, water bills, and the voting machine blame game in Cleveland, Ohio.

I'm in beautiful Ohio on business in the small city of Ashland, which is slightly larger than my current home city, American Fork, Utah. I'm staying in nearby, much larger Mansfield, since all the decent Ashland hotels are full for a local event. I flew into and will fly out of Cleveland, and I've been picking up Cleveland news on the radio and television. Besides some flooding, the interesting stories are these. Disclaimer: Any relevance you may see in these stories to any particular situation elsewhere is your idea, not mine.

Natural gas prices in Cleveland are going up. That in itself is unsurprising, but the stated reason is noteworthy. Those who pay their bills will be paying higher bills to make up for an increased number of customers who use gas but do not pay their bills. Apparently, this announcement is causing a certain amount of discontent among those who do pay their bills.

Water bills in Cleveland are going up. For years the local water company has been badgering its customers to conserve water. Apparently, they listened and are using substantially less water than before. This makes it necessary for the local utility to raise its rates, in order to meet its costs with the lower volume. Sometimes you just can't win.

Those Diebold voting machines. Cuyahoga County, Ohio, which includes Cleveland, used new Diebold computerized voting machines in its primary election in May. (Perhaps it was the same model I used this week in American Fork.) Apparently, there was an inordinate number of problems, and County officials have been blaming Diebold loudly ever since. A number of poll workers did not even know how to turn on the machines, and some election results were delayed six days by the need to count some votes by hand. This week, Diebold responded publicly to the County's charges, noting at a hearing that Cuyahoga County was the only county in Ohio to refuse Diebold's offer to train poll workers. The County insisted that it would handle the training in-house, and it did considerably less training than Diebold normally does. The County also wrote its own instruction manual for the machines, which was reportedly unduly complex and filled with errors; they refused to use Diebold's manual.

I have no direct knowledge of Cuyahoga County's experience. But the scenario in which a customer, motivated by misguided suspicion, frugality, or sheer hardheadedness, insists on doing its own thing, disregarding both common sense and the system manufacturer's recommendations for using and maintaining a system; refuses to provide or allow the manufacturer to provide the proper training for users; and then blames its troubles on the system or the manufacturer . . . That is very familiar to me. Very familiar, indeed.

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