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Published: Tuesday, 10/2/2001

New tally: Ford by 41 votes

BY FRITZ WENZEL
BLADE POLITICAL WRITER

State Rep. Jack Ford finished 41 votes ahead of Lucas County Treasurer Ray Kest in the primary election for Toledo mayor, according to final vote totals expected to be certified today.

Three earlier unofficial vote totals reported by the Lucas County board of elections showed Mr. Ford finished second in total votes to Mr. Kest in the Sept. 11 primary by as many as 201 votes and as few as 10.

The latest - and what election officials insist are the final - tabulations show Mr. Ford finished as the top vote getter. The margin of difference in the preliminary election for the most powerful political office in the city remained close, however, as Mr. Ford edged Mr. Kest by 41 votes out of 46,801 cast in the race for mayor. Mr. Ford got a total 20,740 votes, compared to 20,699 cast for Mr. Kest, the new figures show.

The latest results, which are expected to be certified as the final, official tabulation by the four-member board of elections today in a meeting at Government Center, give Mr. Ford little more than bragging rights. He and Mr. Kest easily outdistanced four other candidates for the right to compete in the general election five weeks from today, on Nov. 6.

Antoinette Szuch, director of the county elections board, said the changing figures are typical for an election process, and are only notable now because the vote totals of Mr. Ford and Mr. Kest are so close. Had this been a general election, she noted, the close margin would have triggered an automatic recount under state law, which requires a second count of all ballots when the margin of victory in an election is within one-half of 1 percent.

“As we did the official count, we corrected mistakes made on the part of the booth workers,” said Ms. Szuch. “We check everything to make sure that their work was done correctly. Sometimes, if [precinct workers] are tired at the end of the day, they might put numbers in the wrong column, or may have added incorrectly.”

For preliminary vote totals after polls close on Election Day, the county relies on handwritten summary books compiled by workers in the city's 388 precincts. Only in a comprehensive official count - which, by law, is to be conducted no sooner than 10 days after an election - are those totals questioned by election officials.

Ms. Szuch said she has no reason to be concerned that the county's voting machines - purchased during the Johnson administration in 1966 - might be getting too old to be accurate in a close race. The machines contain internal metal parts which tabulate votes mechanically.

“We maintain them on a regular basis,” she said. “We strip them and go through a regular maintenance checklist on every machine every year.”

Most other Ohio counties use punch card, optical scanner, or electronic touch-screen voting systems, according to Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell. Lucas is one of only a handful of counties with bulky voting machines.

Mr. Kest said he was “not disappointed” by the latest results.

“It didn't matter if I had won by 50 votes or lost by 50 votes,” he said. “I'm very optimistic. I believe [the primary] was a heavily Democratic vote while independents and Republicans stayed home. I believe those votes will be heard in the general election.”

“To come up 41 votes ahead out of 46,000 cast just means that on that day it was a virtual tie,” Mr Ford said. “The terrorist attack had some impact, but overall it just means this is an extremely close race.

“We're going to keep getting our message to the public,” he said. “Voters will make up their minds,” he said.

This marks the fourth time the elections totals have changed in the tight primary race for mayor.

Mr. Ford went from runner-up to the top vote-getter on the strength of his showing among provisional voters, and because teams of elections workers found mistakes in the transcriptions of vote totals made by precinct workers on election night.

Provisional ballots are cast at polling places on Election Day by voters whose names, for whatever reason, do not appear in the polling books at the precinct at which they are attempting to vote.

They are used most by registered voters who have moved and can still legally vote, but who did not change their address at the board of elections.

Those provisional ballots were counted for the first time last week.

Ms. Szuch said two earlier changes in vote totals in the race were made to correct mistakes made by polling workers in two precincts where poll booth workers mistakenly loaded the wrong vote tabulation paper into the wrong machines.



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