By Tim Cox
About 18 percent of the 131 provisional votes cast in Mercer County on May 2 were not counted by election officials, mostly due to lax oversight by some poll workers.
County elections board members voted to throw out nearly two dozen votes Wednesday, most of them because the voter had not properly filled out both sides of the ballot envelopes. But the problem was not countywide, elections officials said. Instead, problems with partially filled out ballot envelopes were isolated to three precincts, Center and Hopewell townships and the village of Fort Recovery.
There could have been some confusion because this was the first time the provisional ballot envelopes required written information on both sides. Provisional ballots are those cast by people who changed precincts prior to Election Day. The provisional votes are set aside and are only counted after the identity and other pertinent information can be verified.
Elections Director Denise Fullenkamp said she emphasized during poll worker training that the provisional envelopes must be filled out properly. The cost to put extra poll workers at rural precincts to handle provisional ballots cannot be justified because only a handful of the special ballots are cast in each location, Fullenkamp said.
Poll workers earn $85 per day plus $15 for a pre-election training session. Board members expressed concern about the isolated problems with provisional ballots. In Center Township, for example, only one of five provisional ballots cast ended up being counted by elections officials.
"I feel very uncomfortable throwing out ballots when they made an attempt to vote," elections board member Mark Uhlenhake said.
Uhlenhake said poll workers are responsible for assisting voters by looking over the provisional envelopes to make sure they are filled out properly. Seventeen of the 23 ballots rejected were because of improperly filled out envelopes. Four voters were not registered and two more cast ballots in the wrong precinct, disqualifying all six of those votes.
Elections board member Del Kramer said there is no excuse for the provisional ballot problems, especially because one of the main complaints from poll workers is boredom.
In Auglaize County, everything went smoothly.
"We had no hang-ups and everything tallied out," said election board member Mary Dee Malueg following the board meeting Wednesday afternoon. "The election was actually uneventful."
After the provisional ballots were counted at the meeting, no outcome was altered. The winners only won by more votes.
The closest race in the county was for Hugh Core's commissioner seat, which he will vacate when he retires at the end of this year. Doug Spencer, the Republican primary winner, defeated Don Regula by another 16 votes giving Spencer 2,212 to Regula's 2,122.
Spencer, a government teacher at Memorial High School in St. Marys, will face Democrat Ted Vorhees, mayor of Buckland, in the November election.
Although there were no problems with the May election, training for new poll workers is on the board's agenda. Elections Director Carolyn Campbell and her staff will solicit recommendations for new poll workers from central party members in an effort to recruit workers to man the polls in their own home districts.