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Published: Monday, 6/22/2009

Safeguarding elections

THE settlement of a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Ohio's election system finally closes, we hope, the book on Kenneth Blackwell's sad tenure as Ohio Secretary of State.

The League of Women Voters of Ohio, the league's Toledo chapter, and a number of individual voters sued Mr. Blackwell following the 2004 presidential election, in which long lines caused by too few voting machines and not enough paper ballots in many precincts, including in Toledo, combined with poorly trained poll workers to effectively deny people their right to vote.

In 2004, Mr. Blackwell was the avowedly partisan chairman of the Bush re-election effort in Ohio, while issuing a stream of official rulings that had the thinly disguised aim of suppressing the vote among the poor and disadvantaged, who might be expected to vote Democratic.

As we noted several times during his tenure as Ohio's chief elections official, Mr. Blackwell, aided by the Republican-led legislature, displayed a disturbing combination of inattention to his job and blatant partisanship in the conduct of elections. This was especially evident during the 2004 campaign, when Mr. Blackwell tried to disallow voter registration forms printed on paper that did not meet certain weight requirements, a move widely viewed as an attempt to hinder Democratic registration efforts.

According to the settlement, the secretary of state will have to take a more hands-on approach to what happens at local polling places, making sure there are enough voting devices and paper ballots; oversee better training of poll workers; maintain communications on Election Day; issue "best practices" guidelines to local boards of elections, and ensure that more provisional and absentee ballots are counted.

To her credit, the current Secretary of State, Jennifer Brunner, has implemented many of these reforms since she took office in 2007. The result was that the 2008 presidential election went off in Ohio without the drama and problems that characterized elections during Mr. Blackwell's two terms.

What the settlement does is help ensure that even after Ms. Brunner leaves office, elections will continue to run smoothly and voters will continue to feel secure that every vote will be accurately counted.

Implementing the settlement will mean that future elections may cost more, but that's OK. For too long, Ohio has tried to run elections on the cheap, which contributed to some of the problems experienced during the Blackwell years and before.

There is no more important duty in a representative democracy than to vote on Election Day. It's what makes America's democracy work.

Safeguarding that critical civic duty and making it fairer would be cheap at any price.

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