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Published: Monday, 4/25/2005

The nightmare on Jackson Street

THEY are now nothing more than a footnote to an ugly story of political intrigue and bureaucratic bungling, but Toni Slusser's opinions on the operation of the Lucas County Board of Elections over the past few months give insight to a world not even political reporters were allowed to see.

Disgust and dismay spill from her internal status reports, generated chiefly for the eyes of top staffers in the office of Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell. Mr. Blackwell assigned her to help Lucas County get through the November elections. A former county elections director herself, she regularly expressed frustration:

Wed., Oct. 20: Weeks after the deadline for voters to register to vote, and with the election looming, the county office still has not finished processing new registrations. Ms. Slusser notes: "[Blackwell aide Dee Weghorst] conveyed that their management and backlog of registrations was unacceptable, that they needed to get some sort of idea for how many there were and he needed those numbers and a proposal from the Board on how they would obtain that goal. He also wanted an assessment on the status of absentee processing, and various other issues of concern.

"Paula Hicks-Hudson gave the Board a verbal assess followed up with some reports that provided insight on what they had accomplished. No one seemed to have a handle on what was YET TO BE accomplished and no one offered up a time line."

Friday, Oct. 22: "We discovered an issue with how they process absentees. A lady e-mailed concerning an absentee request for her mother and the fact that she had received 3 ballots. This sent up red flags for everyone, but no one seemed to have any answers for how it may have happened. After looking over the situation we discovered that 1. They don't reconcile their ballots, they create the mailing without meshing it with the actual application, they aren't tracking ballot or application numbers, etc. THIS IS A BIG PROBLEM."

Other problems with provisional ballots ensued, but the election then took place. That didn't stop the nightmare on Jackson Street.

Mon., Nov. 15: "Lucas County BOE- Board visit to check on status of processing provisional and progress of recount. Several staff members showed me instances of voters who had voted multiple times, some in the same precinct, and of all things, even almost within a ballot or two. I couldn't believe my eyes. They had several instances of people voting at their old precinct and a new precinct where they supposedly had moved. And as we suspected, some who had voted absentee had voted again at the polls. As I reported earlier, they had not been tracking absentee ballot numbers in the their system."

Mon., Nov. 29: "The fact that ballots are still being discovered in locations around the office is disturbing, especially since one of my first recommendations after an initial visit to that office was to determine a location, and assign a person that would be responsible to oversee, and maintain a log and sort for processing, everything that came into that office. Their internal controls of election supplies is more than sloppy and irresponsible. I feel strongly that the person or persons responsible for overseeing the process should be held accountable for this situation."

Tue., Nov. 30: "I was shown another box of ballots and this just blew me away. The Director had instructed the staff to open every absentee ballot that had come in after the deadline, and to put them in a box, separated from the ID envelopes. I was frustrated beyond belief. This was a situation that I had discussed specifically with the Director when a similar situation had come up regarding the provisional ballots. I had even sent to the Director the Ohio Revised Code cites that addressed the issue of how to handle absentees that came in late or were challenged. I was livid. I hate to think it, but it makes me wonder if this is all being done to deliberately sabotage.

The elections board asked the county prosecutor to investigate sabotage, but nothing came of it. Ms. Slusser continued:

"I think that Paula Ross is deliberately and intimately involved in instructing Paula Hicks-Hudson. That's just my evaluation, but that is not where I think it ends. I believe that Larry Loutzenhiser and Marty [Limmer] are also involved. I think that the Deputy and the other Board members have no idea."

"I'm furious," she said.

Ms. Ross denied there was any sabotage or collusion.

"I was shocked to read it. If she had any such concerns, I don't understand why she didn't bring them up," she said. "She clearly was working under some paranoia, and seems to have begun with an assumption that the Democrats were her enemies,"

All four elections board members have now resigned, and a new chapter is being written at the board. Because there is so little experience among the leadership of the office, it is unclear whether the next chapter will be any better than the last.



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