Ohio Primary Colors

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Ohio elections were back in the spotlight last week. The New York Times called on Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell to turn over his election duties while he runs for governor. Rolling Stone magazine ran an article by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. implying that Ohio's 2004 presidential election was stolen. And Democrats said the Ohio Republican Party is setting election restrictions to suppress the vote in order to give themselves a better chance of winning. And at a Cleveland conference on lessons from the primary, a spokesman for Congressman Stephanie Tubbs Jones, said Cuyahoga County may have to come to up with its own standards for fair elections. Chris Nance quoted the former head of the national Election Assistance Commission DeForest Soaries.

Chris Nance: There are no standards. And when we do have standards, ask me about Ohio. You can recite to me the worst data that anyone has unearthed in Ohio and I would have to say to you, very technically, 'So what? What does it violate?'

Soaries was so frustrated with lack of national standards and lack of Congressional support that he quit the EAC.

Summit County Elections Director Bryan Williams said the Help America Vote Act was simply too rushed, forcing counties to adopt new voting machines before all the bugs were worked out. But he also said policies are unclear and that is stressing the system.

Bryan Williams: Policy is made in elections at the federal, Congress, at the state legislative level. Federal courts and community courts – county courts. You've got four basic policy-making boards that tell us what to do. We had policy changes up to election day in 2004 - federal court orders, things being decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Those issues in Ohio sprung from Secretary of State Blackwell's orders that restricted reporters from polling places, that required registration cards on a certain weight paper, and that threw out provisional ballots if voters showed up at the wrong precinct. The Franklin County Elections Director Matt Damschroder - a Republican - warned that every county cannot just go its own way

Matt Damschroder: For the first time in ages, this year's Secretary of State contest may actually be considered by many voters to be the top of the ticket race instead of the bottom of the ticket race. If the Federal government isn't going to require the standards of the EAC as created as voluntary then those things have to be implemented at the state level or else you do have a significant equal protection issue.

Election officials in Cuyahoga, Franklin, and Summit Counties believe that more experience and better training can overcome problems with new electronic voting machines. But a new requirement from the state legislature frightens them. House Bill 3, as interpreted by the Secretary of State, requires people who register voters send their forms directly to his office, not to the League of Women of Voters or public library or whatever group they work for. Failure to do so could result in a felony. That will suppress the vote, says retired Case Professor Norman Robbins of the Greater Cleveland Voter Coalition. The law also requires voters bring a drivers license or particular type of identification and that, says Robbins, means certain groups will lose out.

Norman Robbins: It is low income, minorities are disproportionately affected, and in some cases it's also seniors and youth. This is not across the board it's inequitable. We've got to do something about it. We can't allow a system that takes the vote away from some people in effect, and gives it to others who don't have those problems.

Robbins says the new ID requirements will prompt a large increase in the amount of provisional ballots being requested. And he believes 40% of the provisional ballots in Cuyahoga were unnecessarily thrown out in 2004.

Cuyahoga County Election director Michael Vu predicted this November's election will be decided by provisional ballots.

Michael Vu: We thought 2004 was interesting. Wait 'till 2006 when all of this is going to come inside the board of elections. Where you have political parties and I consider a platoon from both sides coming inside the Board of Elections to determine whether a provisional ballot was valid or invalid or whether a signature was valid or invalid. Expect litigation. Expect this going to the courts.

Vu and others said the only way to overcome problems will be to implement a massive voter education drive between now and November. Mark Urycki, 90.3 News.

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