KENNETH Blackwell likes to get his name in the paper. If he can get his picture in, too, so much the better for his bulging media scrapbook. But television is tops. Only Ohio's secretary of state could cast himself as the star of public information commercials about voting that look more like blatant political ads boosting his 2006 gubernatorial ambitions.
Ah, Mr. Blackwell, we know ye well. Every time Ohioans catch their chief elections officer on the tube they should think of Katherine Harris, another secretary of state who drew the media in like a magnet four years ago. Katherine and Kenneth are partisan soul mates.
Ms. Harris, you'll recall, was the Tammy Faye Baker look-alike in Florida who presided over the biggest election mess in modern history. In 2000, she set up the Supreme Court to decide the presidential campaign while confusion gripped the Sunshine State over widespread voting irregularities that made the hanging chad famous.
Through it all then-Secretary of State Harris remained ever the unwavering party loyalist. She took the heat so Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, presidential brother-in-waiting, wouldn't have to. She defended the state's hugely flawed electoral process to a worldwide audience without a hint of concession that equal opportunity voting - the core ideal of democracy itself - had been severely compromised under her watch.
For her unflagging duty to party and President, Ms. Harris was rewarded with a congressional seat in Washington. It pays to put on a good show in the face of public wrath.
Four years later it's Mr. Blackwell's turn to make big points with the national Republican Party - he's alienated everyone in the state party - by making the 2004 presidential election in the make-or-break battleground state as confusing as possible.
Figure it's going to be plenty confusing as it is without Mr. Blackwell's help if record numbers of newly registered voters overwhelm poll workers with information that doesn't match up. But when that happens will the volunteers manning the polls be up to speed on the latest Blackwell court challenges and legal rulings regarding provisional ballots and more?
Will they understand that every Ohio voter who shows up at the wrong precinct on Nov. 2 still has the right to vote in the presidential election with the ballot verified later? On another matter, have some county boards of election in Ohio already rejected voter registration forms that were on paper of less than 80-pound stock - as ridiculously instructed by Mr. Blackwell before he backed off a directive he refused to withdraw?
In the crush of Election Day, with emotions high and voter motivation keen, will those standing between citizens and the voting booth be able to identify and solve problems from technical to procedural to finding the right polling places or getting past busy signals on swamped election hot lines?
Shouldn't Mr. Blackwell be preoccupied with these concerns 24/7 instead of last minute legal challenges to prevent voting?
There's too much riding on the outcome of this presidential election for Ohio to become the next Florida, where votes are thrown out that shouldn't be, or whole voting blocs never counted because of election worker errors, or ballots rejected outright because first-time voter information is incomplete or incorrect.
The secretary of state should be promoting a robust, responsible voter turnout, not creating new hurdles for the electorate to jump through.
It is no secret that many of the voters who stand to be disenfranchised by Mr. Blackwell's muddled mandates and legal maneuvers skew traditionally toward the Democratic Party. Many poor people and members of minorities could be excluded from one of the most critical presidential elections of our time simply because a Republican state officeholder with the power to do so opted to put party above fair play.
In the openly hostile, maddeningly close contest between John Kerry and George Bush, partisan operatives will stoop to anything to get ahead. But the top elections officer in the state isn't supposed to be on a political mission for anyone or interpreting election rules to make just enough of a difference for any party.
But Katherine, er, Kenneth Blackwell is out to make headlines that grab national attention and garner GOP appreciation. Ohioans can only hope he'll find career advancement out of state.
After this election, Governor Blackwell is out of the question.
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