By Tim Cox
Mercer County elections officials will not have to meet the terms of a massive, wide-ranging public records request that came to all 88 Ohio county elections boards, including Mercer County.
A federal lawsuit was filed by the League of Women Voters of Ohio against Ohio Gov. Bob Taft and Secretary of State Ken Blackwell in July. A subpoena issued by the judge in the case had authorized the statewide records request that sought some documents more than 30 years old.
Mercer County elections officials -- facing preparations for next week's election -- solicited advice from county Prosecuting Attorney Andy Hinders.
After discussions between Hinders and representatives of the League of Women Voters, the request has been significantly "tailored-down," Hinders said. Budget restraints on the league and the lack of computerized records from many years ago played into the compromise, he said.
The plaintiffs had only $50 available to spend for records in this county, but the estimated tab for providing the thousands of pages of copies requested would have topped $3,000. Some of the requested records would have to have been professionally copied because they are kept in oversized ledgers. "It would have taken a truck to hold it all," Hinders said.
League of Women Voters officials were under the impression that the bulk of their request could be honored through a few computer disks. Because that is not the case, the request has been modified, Hinders said.
Elections Director Denise Fullenkamp will do her best to compile as much information as possible on computer disks, Hinders said. League officials can then decide what other material they want paper copies of. That work won't occur until after the election, however.
The lawsuit was filed in federal district court in Toledo. The complaint alleges that state leaders and their predecessors have failed to protect the rights of Ohio voters under the equal protection and due process clauses in the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The suit also alleges that Ohio has failed to comply with the Help America Vote Act of 2002, according to a League of Women Voters news release issued at the time of the filing.
The lawsuit alleges numerous election flaws over the past 30 years, including registration problems, absentee and provisional balloting irregularities, poll working training problems and polling place staffing and lines.
The league is represented by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and a number of other law firms, institutes and organizations.