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Ohio's Primary and Election Reform - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

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Ohio's Primary and Election Reform - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
By Bob Fitrakis and Ron Baiman

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The good news is that visible strides were made in re-enfranchising Ohio's
Franklin County (Columbus) inner city urban voters in the March 4, 2008
primary. Voting machines and paper ballots were plentiful and equally

But, the bad news is that the discrepancy between the preliminary exit poll
data and the unofficial vote tallies was reminiscent of the improbable
results of the 2004 presidential election in Ohio between John Kerry and
George W. Bush.

While the Clinton-Obama results are more probable than the Kerry-Bush
results of 2004, they are still highly suspect and suggest statistically
significant flaws in the exit polling or in the recording of Ohio votes.

In their "day after" analysis, the Washington Post reported (on page A9)
that the Ohio Democratic presidential primary "preliminary exit poll results
show the makeup of the electorate and how it voted."

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The preliminary exit poll information showed Clinton beating Obama by 3.26%
-- Clinton with 51.13% and Obama with 47.87%.

The unofficial results posted on the website of the Ohio Secretary of State
are: Clinton 54.29%, Obama 44.00% and Edwards 1.72%, which gives a Clinton
to Obama gap of 10.29%. This gives us a difference of 7.03% from the exit
poll results.

The odds of Obama's Ohio results happening given the 4% margin of error
mentioned by the Washington Post are one in every 35 elections. Clinton's
Ohio vote total is likely to occur once in every 16 elections.

The 4% margin of error included more than a 60% increase for a so-called
"cluster factor." Without the "cluster factor" adjustment, the margin of
error on the sample size of about 1600 would be 2.5%. Without this "cluster
factor" adjustment, the odds of Obama's Ohio results happening are one in
every 954 elections; Clinton's Ohio vote total would occur once in every 165

Although the unexpected election results baffled election observers, they
found that the polling places ran smoothly in Franklin County. Voters in
Franklin County had the choice of voting on electronic voting machines or on
a paper ballot.

Unlike the 2004 Ohio presidential election, inner city precincts in Columbus
had plenty of machines. In Franklin County's ward 55 precinct B that had
three machines in the 2004 general election, there were six machines and a
dedicated paper ballot voting table. Gone were the three to seven hour waits
in the near east side's 55th and 5th wards. The longest wait recorded by
Free Press election observers in Franklin County's inner city was 15

In Cleveland, the wait was longer. Fifteen or so precincts remained open
until 9pm by a federal judge's order, after running out of paper ballots. In
Cuyahoga County, voters voted primarily on paper ballots, although polling
sites provided an electronic voting machine for voters with disabilities.

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Election observers reporting to the Free Press attributed the Cleveland mess
in part to increased voting by independents and registered Republicans
crossing over to vote on a Democratic ballot.

Also, an election observer reported the failure to secure ballots after the
polls closed in the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections vote counting area.

In a giant step forward, reversing the partisan policies of former Ohio
Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, inner city voters at polling places
with multiple precincts were allowed to vote at the shortest line and on any
free voting machine.

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