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Published: Saturday, 11/3/2012

Mr. Husted’s election

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted has strong ideas about how to make elections fair, uniform, and efficient. Some of his ideas are useful contributions to positive electoral reform; others are not. With a presidential election on the line in Ohio, there is no room for error.

Mr. Husted deserves appreciation for ensuring that nearly every Ohio voter got an application to vote by absentee ballot this year. He made it easier for voters to update their addresses and other information online, to reduce the incidence of provisional ballots.

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But he also denied Ohioans the ability to cast their ballots in person on weekends and during evenings throughout early voting. It took a court decision to force Mr. Husted to keep early voting sites open for all Ohioans this weekend, the final three days before Election Day.

This week, a federal appeals court granted Mr. Husted’s request to place on hold a lower-court order to count provisional ballots cast by voters in the wrong polling place. The appellate court feared that a flood of last-minute voters would be sent to convenient but incorrect polling places, in the hope that some invalid votes would count.

That seems unlikely, and some voters undoubtedly will be disfranchised by this decision. Far more likely is the possibility that a voter will go to the right polling place, but will be sent by a poll worker to the wrong precinct.

About 80 percent of Ohio polling places include more than one precinct. In 2008, 14,000 provisional “right-church, wrong-pew” ballots were thrown out. Mr. Husted says he supports the court decision to count such votes.

There have been other glitches. Thousands of absentee ballot applications may have been rejected because Mr. Husted’s office did not send 33,000 updated registration records to local election officials until after the deadline for changes.

More than 700 Franklin County voters were sent the wrong absentee ballot. And the Ottawa County Board of Elections sent instructions to voters in three precincts that included the wrong date and polling place for Election Day.

Electoral College watchers say that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney likely cannot win on Tuesday without taking Ohio. The statewide vote is expected to be so close that experts say the result may hinge on swing counties such as Wood County.

Ohio must not become another Florida, where the 2000 presidential election was decided by courts rather than ballot counts. Local election boards must run a malfunction-free election, and vote tallies must be scrupulously accurate.

In 2008, Ohioans cast some 200,000 provisional ballots, second only to California. Thousands more provisional ballots — which aren’t opened until 10 days after the election — could be cast this year as an unintended consequence of the mass mailing of absentee ballot applications. Ohio’s complex provisional ballot rules can’t be allowed to drag out the election for weeks.

The stakes, past voting problems in Lucas County and elsewhere, and Mr. Husted’s intervention in the process this year, have made this election uniquely his responsibility. He has to get it right.



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