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Disturbing Election Info from Columbus Dispatch (Ohio)

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Home / Elections and Voting / Voters / Register to Vote / Update Your Address / Online Change of Address Message

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Requests rejected
Glitch held up absentee ballots

By Josh Jarman

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The Columbus Dispatch Thursday November 1, 2012 6:28 AM

Thousands of absentee-ballot requests may have been erroneously rejected statewide because of voter-registration issues, voter advocates say.

Secretary of State Jon Husted has acknowledged that a data-sharing glitch between his office and the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles likely caused some absentee-ballot applications to be wrongfully rejected because county boards did not have up-to-date information on registrants' addresses.

Meanwhile, a voter advocacy group said yesterday that it had found cases in which county boards rejected applications for absentee ballots of legitimately registered voters because elections officials erroneously determined them to be unregistered.

Norman Robbins, research director at Northeast Ohio Voter Advocates, said group members thought that the number of absentee-ballot requests being rejected was abnormally high in Cuyahoga County. So, last week group members began their own audit of the requests and discovered some had come from registered voters whose applications were rejected when election officials could not find their registration.

The group alerted the county's Board of Elections, which performed its own audit of the rejected requests over the weekend and determined that 865 had been erroneously tossed.

Robbins' group performed a similar study of Franklin County's records and determined that 38"-p ercent of the rejected requests they checked also could have come from registered voters.

Robbins sent a letter to Husted on Tuesday and asked him to issue a directive to county election boards statewide, ordering them to double-check their rejected requests using the same more-stringent search methods that were used in Cuyahoga County during the second search.

"It seems to me there is every reason to do this," Robbins said. "If this gets to be a situation like the 2000 presidential election in Florida, at least local boards can say, "Here's the five steps we took to make sure everyone was registered.'"-"

If the math holds up, he said, as many as 4,500 registered voters will not receive absentee ballots they requested. As many as 6,000 provisional ballots cast by registered voters could go uncounted, he added.

Jane Platten, director of the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, said the board typically double-checks rejected ballot requests but had not gotten to it before being contacted by Robbins' group. She said it was a helpful reminder that allowed the board to find the mistakes in time to get ballots to those voters.

She said the board uncovered another 71 voters whose absentee-ballot requests were incorrectly denied after it received the updated Bureau of Motor Vehicles information this week. Those voters also were sent ballots.

Joe Andrews, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Public Safety, which oversees the BMV, said a software glitch caused about 100,000 change-of-address notifications made on the bureau's website not to be sent to the secretary of state's office. The bureau began sharing address information with Husted's office last year to help keep better tabs on the state's voter rolls.

Andrews said the online address changes are a small percentage of those shared by the bureau and that the updated info was sent to Husted as soon as the glitch was discovered last week.

Matt McClellan, Husted's spokesman, said of the 100,000 notifications, about 65,000 were registered voters and 32,000 of those already had updated their address information with the secretary of state's office.

That left about 33,000 voters whose addresses possibly would not match the voter rolls. He said the office sent the updated information to the county election boards as soon as it became available.

"Certainly we would have liked to have the data sooner," McClellan said. "We're ultimately avoiding possibly thousands of provisional ballots."

He said there was still plenty of time for those affected to vote.

McClellan said he had not seen the letter from Robbins' group and could not comment.

Dana Walch, deputy director of the Franklin County Board of Elections, said it was not known late yesterday how many county residents might have had absentee-ballot requests denied because of the data glitch, but the board was working to correct the issue and get those voters ballots.

As for Robbins' concerns, Walch said the board already uses multiple sources of information, including name, address, date of birth, driver's license, Social Security number and information from the BMV to match voter registrations.

"We feel very comfortable that the list we have is correct," he said.

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