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10-20-04 Mercer County election board waits for ruling

By Sean Rice

  A judgment from the Toledo U.S. District Court could cause Mercer County election workers to scramble to develop new policies for handling provisional ballots on Election Day.

  County officials are waiting for an appeal of the decision, or for a directive from Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell on how to handle the procedural changes created by the suit.
  Provisional ballots are available for voters who did not update registration information prior to the deadline.
  Under existing Ohio law, if a voter moved and did not notify the elections board, the voter would be directed to their new polling location and vote on a provisional ballot. The law says a voter can only cast that provisional ballot at their new and correct polling location. The ballot is later double-checked by elections board officials to guard against double voting.
  The U.S. district court decided last week Ohio's law conflicts with the Help Americans Vote Act (HAVA). A judge ruled that voters should be allowed to vote provisional ballots at any polling location in the jurisdiction (county).  Mercer County Prosecuting Attorney Andrew Hinders told the county elections board this week 27 other states have provisional ballot laws similar to Ohio and he expects an appeal.
  Under the judge's decision a voter can go to any polling place in their jurisdiction (county) and vote provisional, Hinders said. The poll worker can advise the voter of the correct polling location, but cannot refuse the voter.
  Because each part of the county has different local issues and different ballot layouts, the provisional decision could cause much more checking work for poll workers and board members in counting the ballots.
  Hinders said a voter who votes under the recent decision and votes at the incorrect polling location, will forfeit their right to the local issues in their home precinct. For example, if a Celina resident votes with a provisional ballot in Fort Recovery, they lose their vote on Celina's tax issue.
  Further, if that Celina resident votes in Fort Recovery, elections board members have to assure no extra votes get counted on the Fort Recovery ballot.
  Elections board members this week discussed methods of counting provisional ballots, and how to direct poll workers. The provisional ballots have envelopes that require information from the voter. If the changes stand, poll workers will need to be directed to collect more information to assure the ballot counting jibes with precinct numbers.
  Board members are meeting again at 10:30 a.m. Friday in the Mercer County Courthouse to make final decisions on the provisional procedure. Also, a required public test of election punch-card equipment is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Friday.


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