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Ohio Election Board Throws Out Challenges

Times Staff Writer

Catherine Herold was steaming mad when she got a letter Tuesday telling her that someone was challenging her right to vote in her neighborhood in Barberton, Ohio.

“I was furious,” Herold, 62, said in a telephone interview. “I didn’t sleep that night, I was that mad.”

But on Thursday, at an elections board hearing on that challenge in Akron, Ohio, her accuser, a Republican Party activist, was the one who ended up under scrutiny. The activist declined to answer questions from officials for fear of self-incrimination, according to a transcript.

The Summit County Board of Elections dismissed the challenges against Herold and 975 other voters whose registrations had been questioned. Several of the GOP challengers were identified at the hearing, each of whom had questioned hundreds of registrations.

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A variety of legal skirmishes over the upcoming election are underway in Ohio and other battleground states as supporters of President Bush and Democratic challenger Sen. John F. Kerry try to tip the election in favor of their candidate.

In Ohio, Republicans are challenging thousands of registrations as fraudulent. GOP officials based their suspicions about some registrations on the fact that party mailings sent to voters were returned to the sender. Some of the envelopes had been marked “deceased” or “no such resident.”

GOP activists have asked county election boards to disqualify thousands of voter registrations, but a federal judge Wednesday effectively blocked several Ohio counties from holding hearings on the challenges before election day. Those people will be allowed to vote.

Because the Summit County Board of Elections was not named in that action, its hearings on the voter challenges were not blocked.

That board had scheduled hearings to consider the challenges for several days leading up to the election, and Herold was the first voter whose case was heard.

A Republican activist named Barbara Miller told the board that she had never been to the address where Herold said she lived and did not know Herold, according to a transcript of the hearing. She said she based her challenge on information she received from a lawyer for the Republican Party, who had told her that mail sent to that address was returned to the party.

Herold said she recalled having declined to accept a mailing from the Republican Party.

In a heated moment, one Democrat on the election board suggested that an indictment may be in order against Miller, because she had sworn that she had personal knowledge leading her to believe that the registration was fraudulent, according to the transcript.

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At that point, a lawyer representing Miller said the activist would exercise her right against self-incrimination and would say no more.

Ohio Republican Party spokesmen and the lawyer who represented GOP activists at the hearing did not answer a reporter’s telephone calls or e-mail.

Even though the challenge against Herold was dismissed, she was outraged that her right to vote had been questioned.

“My integrity was questioned here, my veracity. I’ve basically been accused of lying,” Herold told the board.

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Most of her ire was directed at the Republican Party.

“They’re trying to basically disenfranchise people or intimidate people so they don’t go to the polls,” said Herold, who had taken a day off from her job at a university to attend the hearing. “Other people who got this letter would say, ‘I won’t just vote.’ ”

Herold said she had not missed an election since she first voted 42 years ago.


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