Tuesday, November 2, 2004

OH: Judge orders officials to provide paper ballots

The Columbus Dispatch, November 2, 2004


A federal judge has ordered the Franklin and Knox County boards of elections to provide paper ballots or other forms of voting to help process the people remaining in long lines.

Lawyers from the Franklin Board and Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell vehemently objected and vowed an immediate appeal, saying any votes not cast on the regular electronic machines would be illegal.

And it was not immediately clear just what the Franklin County elections board would do to comply with the judge's order.

U.S. District Judge Algenon L. Marbley held an emergency hearing at the request of the Ohio Democratic Party and issued his order just as the polls were closing.

Ohio law requires that everyone in line when the polls close be allowed to vote, no matter how long it takes. A poll worker stands at the end of the line if necessary to mark where voting will end.

But Democrats argued with lines snaking out the door of many polling places and waits of several hours, voters are getting discouraged and leaving before casting their votes.

"Participation in this Democracy should not be as onerous as it is being made today," Marbley said before issuing his order.

During testimony at the rapidly held hearing, Franklin County elections chief Matthew Damschroder said there is no practical way for the county to make the voting go any faster for those in line.

Using absentee ballots would take longer, and trying to use absentee booklets or other forms of a paper ballot would be too difficult to use, he said.

Richard N. Coglianese, an assistant Ohio attorney general representing Blackwell, argued the court lacked the authority to issue such an order and that any votes not cast on the machines at this late hour would be illegal.

He asked the judge to stay his orders pending an appeal, but the judge refused.

Marbley suggested the election boards should have done more to prepare for the heavy turnout today, but Damschroder said the board deployed all of the electronic machines it could.

"Voting equipment isn't like buying a loaf of bread," he said. "You can't just go down to the local store and get one."


Several callers to The Dispatch today complained that some voters were holding up lines by taking up to 15 minutes to make decisions once they reached the voting machines.

At other polling places, some voters objected that poll workers were enforcing a five-minute limit for using the voting machines. The Franklin County Board of Elections confirmed that poll workers are allowed to enforce that time limit to keep long lines moving.

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