Voters in Ohio's most populous county will deal with high turnout, new voting equipment and possibly even the aftermath of last-minute litigation on election day. But Jane Platten, director of Cuyahoga County's Board of Elections, says her office is ready for Nov. 4th. ideastream®'s Mhari Saito reports.
Cuyahoga County grabbed national headlines in 2004 and 2006 for its elections snafus - trouble with long lines, lost memory cards, poll workers who struggled with touch screen voting machines. Board of Elections Director Jane Platten says preparation for the Nov.4, 2008 election started about 18 months ago when the board's management team was overhauled and the voting machines taken offline.
Jane Platten: We have done a significant amount of change. And I say significant because of the fact we have changed our voting system a couple of times in that period.
The latest new voting system - paper ballots and scanning equipment to read those ballots - has had a couple of successful runs since Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner cast the deciding vote in their favor late last year. What's new this time is that optical scanners will be at every Cuyahoga County precinct for voters to scan their ballot to help catch those with mistakes.
Jane Platten: That scanner will then alert them if they have an issue or mistake on the ballot and it will give the voter a choice as to whether or not they want to accept the ballot and drop it in as having voted it or reject it and get that ballot back out, and take that ballot over to the poll worker and get a new ballot.
Platten warns of long lines on election day, especially in the morning before people go to work. She estimates 750,000 people in the county will cast ballots for this election. But the good news, she says, is strong response to early voting, either by mail or in person at the Board of Elections. An estimated 250,000 people will have cast ballots before Nov. 4.
Jane Platten: In my book 500,000 is a much more manageable number than 750,000 people going in a 13-hour period going to 568 locations throughout the county.
Platten also addressed ongoing controversy over potentially fraudulent or invalid registrations. The Board of Elections has referred 14 people to the Cuyahoga County prosecutor for an investigation into alleged voter registration fraud. Platten says she is also aware of voters who have moved and are now registered in more than one county, and registrations for voters who are now dead.
Jane Platten: I know that happens. And we're going to deal with that. But those people are not voting. There is not voter fraud there.
The other concern this election is how long the ballot is. Candidates names and ballot issues fill up two pages. A ballot can take 15 to 20 minutes to fill out. Polling locations will have private voting booths, tables and even extra clipboards to help deal with a high number of voters. But Platten says, preparation helps.
Jane Platten: We want to educate voters to get on our website and look up their city, ward and precinct ballot. This is an important key so that they don't have to wait and go through the ballot and not understand everything that's on here.
The Board of Elections found that most early votes were cast by suburban voters and are preparing for heavier lines in urban areas. Poll workers have also been told that litigation to keep polls open after 7:30pm on Nov. 4th is a high probability. Last spring, the Obama campaign successfully sued to keep polls open in some Cleveland precincts that were running low on ballots. Platten says this time, all precincts should enough ballots for 105 percent of all the voters in that area. Mhari Saito, 90.3.