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Published: Sunday, 2/27/2005

Let the voters vote

Possibly the most important lesson learned from the 2004 presidential election is that showing up at the wrong precinct should not disenfranchise an otherwise qualified voter.

But that's precisely what happened to many of the 35,379 Ohioans - including 3,122 here in Lucas County - whose provisional ballots were rejected after the Nov. 2 election. Their votes should have been counted but weren't.

Now it is up to the General Assembly to correct this miscarriage of democracy by aligning state law with the federal Help America Vote Act, which was intended to prevent such lapses.

A hearing on provisional voting was held Wednesday in Columbus by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. One of the witnesses was Kay Maxwell, president of the League of Women Voters of the United States, who said, "We felt strongly that individuals who ended up in their so-called wrong precinct . . . . should have been able to cast ballots for president and vice president and any statewide offices. If it's a problem for even a couple of people, then it's a problem that needs solving."

Ms. Maxwell is right, but, unfortunately, Secretary of State Ken Blackwell didn't agree. On Nov. 2, Mr. Blackwell enforced a state law that requires all voters to cast ballots in the correct precinct, even if they were in the wrong place through no fault of their own.

In some cases, it was the fault of poor record keeping. In others, election officials or poll workers were inadequately or improperly trained on how to deal with provisional ballots. In one instance in Toledo, 40 provisional voters were in the correct polling place on Nov. 2 but got into the wrong precinct line. All their votes were rejected.

Voters themselves have a measure of responsibility, including voting regularly so their names are not purged from the rolls and remembering to file changes of address with the county board of elections.

But election officials, both state and local, must remember that their job is not to obstruct legitimate voters but to ensure that as many cast ballots as possible.

If they are serious about carrying out this sacred duty, Mr. Blackwell and his fellow Republicans who control the General Assembly will see to it that Ohio law on provisional voting conforms to the federal HAVA statute. The ball is in their court.

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