by Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman
December 9, 2008
The last US House seat has been filled by a Democratic County Commissioner in a vote count defined by the ghosts of 2004.
And the provisional ballot system installed by former Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell---now a candidate for chair of the Republican National Committee---continues to haunt the electoral process in the nation's premier swing state, a legacy underscored by a landmark election protection conference held just as this final House race was being decided.
Mary Jo Kilroy of Columbus will be the first Democrat to represent any part of Franklin County in Congress since 1982, and the first to represent her 15th Congressional District since the 1960s.
In 2006 Kilroy barely lost to incumbent Deb Pryce as thousands of contested provisional ballots went uncounted. Under then-Secretary Blackwell, voters in Democratic precincts were routinely challenged on minor details and forced to cast provisional ballots to allegedly be counted at a later time.
But thousands were merely pitched in the trash or otherwise negated. Some 16,000 provisionals and 93,000 machine-rejected ballots have never been counted from a 2004 election decided by an official margin of less than 119,000 votes. Independent observers believe a fair vote count would have given Kilroy her House seat in 2006. Also in that election, e-voting machines had statistically unlikely high rates of undervotes in central city polls.
This year the Ohio Secretary of State is Democrat Jennifer Brunner. Publicly committed to a full and fair voting process, Brunner repeatedly went to court to defend an expanded right to vote and have as many votes counted as possible. Various Republican maneuvers would have eliminated some 800,000 voters and given Ohio to John McCain, had Brunner not fought for voter's rights.
As part of Blackwell's legacy, a shocking 10% of the state was forced to vote provisionally on Election Day, more than 16 times the percentage in Missouri, and 30 times the percentage in Virginia. (Our next article will focus on Blackwell and his candidacy for RNC Chair).
This year, as Pryce retired, Kilroy ran against State Senator Steve Stivers, who successfully petitioned the Ohio Supreme Court to trash some 1,000 provisional ballots, allowing poll worker error to disenfranchise known registered voters. But the bulk survived, giving Kilroy her belated 2,311 vote victory.
Overwhelmingly Democratic, Franklin County has been gerrymandered into three separate Congressional Districts, each including heavily Republican rural areas that have kept the seats in GOP hands. With a Democratic Governor and a 3-2 edge on Ohio's Apportionment Board, the districts are scheduled to be redrawn in 2010.
Fittingly, the Kilroy victory came less than a week after Brunner hosted a historic Election Summit at the Ohio Historical Society.
Deemed the �first of its kind� by Attorney Lawrence Norden of the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, the conference examined Ohio's provisional ballot aberration. Prof. Ned Foley of Ohio State's Moritz College of Law decried the �over-reliance� that produced 181,000 provisional ballots, including one out of every ten cast on Election Day. �
Brunner convened the conference by endorsing �citizen-run elections� where application of the law is �smooth and even.�
Noting that GOP challenges to voting rights �all took place in battleground states,� she endorsed mail-in and early voting expansion, which in 2008 enabled some 40% of Ohio�s 2008 votes to come in before Election Day.
As a result, Election Day waits rarely exceeded one hour. Brunner fought the GOP to provide paper ballots to be used when voting machines malfunctioned, which further reduced waiting times. Nonetheless poor poll worker training and a �lack of high-speed scanners� sometimes slowed things down.
Brunner gave speaking time to Board of Election officials who disliked her positions, including Richland County's Deputy Director Jeff Wilkinson, who said her insistence on providing paper ballots cost $24,000 in unneeded administrative costs. Wilkinson said only 708 of 14,700 Richland's voters chose paper over the machines.
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