Looking for Voter Reform, Groups Keep Eyes on Ohio

Times Staff Writers

Although there appears to be virtually no chance that the results of the presidential race in Ohio will change, groups there continue to express dismay about how the election was conducted. They are taking actions to keep the state’s troubled voting mechanisms in the public spotlight and hopefully generate reforms by 2006.

Today, a coalition including the Ohio Citizens Alliance for Secure Elections, the League of Young Voters and the People for the American Way Foundation has scheduled the first of two public hearings “to investigate voter irregularities and voter suppression,” according to Susan Truitt of Columbus, co-founder of the citizens alliance.

In addition, the Green and Libertarian parties announced on Thursday that they planned to file a formal demand for a recount of presidential ballots cast in Ohio. The Greens and the Libertarians, as well as Common Cause of Ohio and Massachusetts-based Alliance for Democracy, said they had launched a campaign to raise the $114,000 it would cost to conduct the recount.

There is no chance that either Michael Badnarik, the Libertarian candidate who polled 0.26% of the votes cast for president, or David K. Cobb, the Green candidate who got even fewer votes, will win.


But both said they thought a recount was warranted because of problems that occurred on election day, including reports of machine malfunctions, long lines and the inability of some voters to obtain provisional ballots.

Such ballots allow those whose names do not show up on the voter rolls at the polling place to cast their votes and have their validity sorted out later.

Similar concerns were expressed by Naina Khanna of the League of Young Voters.

“This isn’t necessarily about disputing the results, it’s about disputing the process, which is clearly flawed,” Khanna said.

At the hearing today at a Baptist church in Columbus, civil rights groups plan to take testimony and videotape the stories of voters who encountered problems on election day.

Lawyers and notaries will be present to take affidavits that might be used in future litigation, said Claire Reichstein of the San Francisco-based Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, which prevailed in two pre-election lawsuits in Ohio and is contemplating a third.

Cincinnati attorney Tim Burke, chairman of the Hamilton County Board of Elections, acknowledged that in some quarters there was suspicion about the outcome in Ohio and that there was considerable buzz on the Internet and talk radio.

“There were enough little glitches to feed the truly paranoid among us. But little glitches are sometimes being turned into the alligators in the sewers of urban legend,” said Burke, who also is co-chairman of the Democratic Party in Cincinnati.


“When you look closely at an operation involving thousands of part-time [polling place] workers engaged in millions of transactions with voters, there will be problems encountered,” Burke said. “I do believe we have to ensure that all votes are accurately counted. That process is underway. I would love to think that we will find another 150,000 votes for Kerry in Ohio, but I don’t hold out much hope.”

According to the preliminary results in Ohio, which included all domestic absentee ballots, Kerry lost the state by 136,483, according to the Ohio secretary of state’s office.

Election officials throughout the state are trying to assess the validity of 155,428 provisional ballots and an unknown number of overseas absentee ballots that were cast in the presidential election.

Lawyers for the Kerry-Edwards campaign are monitoring the effort in an attempt to ensure that all eligible absentee and provisional ballots are counted, said Cincinnati attorney Daniel J. Hoffheimer, chief lawyer for the Kerry-Edwards campaign in Ohio.


Hoffheimer emphasized that the “effort is not in any way intended to overturn George Bush’s victory in Ohio, and we do not expect to find a pattern of voter fraud. Rather, the Kerry-Edwards legal team’s intention is to assure that provisional, absentee, overseas and regular ballots are counted in accordance with federal and Ohio law. In that way the final, official count will be as accurate and honest as is humanly possible, given the serious limitations imposed by Ohio’s antiquated election laws.”

On election day, a lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati asserting that the state lacked uniform standards for making decisions on the validity of provisional ballots.

A hearing in the case has not yet been held.

The lawsuit said that if the state did not have uniform standards, it would run afoul of the 2000 Supreme Court decision that halted a recount in Florida and handed the election to Bush. That ruling said that the same criteria for a recount needed to be applied throughout a state.


Ohio State University law professor Edward B. Foley, an election law specialist, said late this week that he had heard troubling reports indicating that disparate standards were being used in different Ohio counties.

“A provisional ballot, as Congress envisioned when enacting the Help America Vote Act [in 2002], was supposed to function as a kind of voter’s insurance policy,” Foley said.

If consistent standards are not used, provisional ballots may not be the insurance policy they were intended to be, he said.

In Ohio, formal requests for recounts must go to the boards of elections in each of the state’s 88 counties, though recounts do not begin until after the official results are certified, Secretary of State spokesman James Lee said. Ohio expects to certify the presidential election by early December.


The state has detailed rules that dictate how recounts are done, including who has the legal authority to conduct recounts, witness the process and even touch official records.

Under Ohio law, any candidate who does not win an election may request a recount within five days of the official certification of a vote. The cost of the recount is $10 per precinct, meaning that a recount of all of Ohio’s precincts would cost $113,600.

The recount must be completed within 10 days of the request being made.

The laws give boards of elections freedom to investigate any issues that raise concern, and the boards “may institute more rigorous recounting procedures,” such as hand counting a larger percentage of precincts.