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Published: Friday, 10/1/2004

Officials split over handling Nader ballots

BY FRITZ WENZEL
BLADE POLITICAL WRITER

Just weeks before the Nov. 2 election, the Lucas County Board of Elections is stalled over an issue that could affect how people vote for president.

A state directive to Ohio counties to remove Ralph Nader's name from ballots divided the elections board's Democrats and Republicans during an emergency meeting yesterday, as members disagreed over how to execute the order.

Republicans Bernadette Noe and Sam Thurber favor posting signs at polling places to warn voters not to vote for Mr. Nader, though Ms. Noe said she was willing to explore additional measures to inform voters of his disqualification from the ballot.

Democrat Paula Ross contends large numbers of voters could miss the signs and vote for Mr. Nader anyway, thus wasting their votes. She said she wants ballots containing Mr. Nader's name tossed out and reprinted without his name.

"If I were deciding, I'd decide to spend the $31,000 [to reprint ballots] and do it right," she said. She acknowledged last night, though, that the county may not be able to afford to discard those ballots.

A third option is available, according to a directive issued Wednesday by Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, who ordered Ohio counties to remove Mr. Nader's name from ballots. He said they can cover Mr. Nader's name on each ballot with a sticker.

"It's the board's decision. Whatever they feel comfortable with and whatever time and resources permit," said Carlo LoParo, a spokesman for Mr. Blackwell.

However, Diebold Elections Systems, the vendor that supplies Lucas County with its optical scan machinery, has "issued a stern warning" against running ballots with stickers through its equipment, Ms. Noe said. She said the company has advised the county that stickers could come loose and gum up the machines - and the tabulation of the local election.

Unable to decide on a course of action, and thinking they might have insight into the matter by today, the board members adjourned and will meet again this afternoon to continue their discussion.

The elections officials did agree to put stickers over Mr. Nader's name on absentee ballots being voted on at the counter at the elections office. Those ballots will be counted manually, Ms. Noe said. They also notified their ballot printer, Dayton Legal Blank Inc., to halt printing of the county's ballots until a decision can be reached. Ms. Ross said the printer already has printed about half of the county's ballots with Mr. Nader's name included, incurring a cost of about $31,000.

Paula Hicks-Hudson, director of the elections office, said yesterday afternoon that "about 50" people have cast absentee ballots so far at the elections office counter since ballots were first made available Tuesday morning.

Ohio Democrats filed a protest opposing Mr. Nader's presence on the state ballot. That protest led to a weeklong hearing and Mr. Blackwell's subsequent decision to remove his name from the ballot.

While Democrats across the country have blamed Mr. Nader's 2000 candidacy for tossing the presidency to George W. Bush because the third-party candidate siphoned off votes from Democrat Al Gore in key states, including New Hampshire and Florida, Mr. Nader had no impact on the race here.

Though Mr. Nader won nearly 118,000 votes in Ohio, Mr. Bush won the state by a much larger margin. Current polls of Ohioans show this year's contest to be closer here than four years ago. Because the state wields 20 electoral votes, both the Bush and Kerry campaigns consider the state vital to their chances for victory.

Worse news for Ohio's county elections boards: The question about Mr. Nader's presence on the ballot is not settled, Mr. Lo-

Paro said last night. He said Nader supporters are talking about filing a court action to reverse Mr. Blackwell's order to pull him off the ballot. If Mr. Nader prevails, counties will have to reverse course yet again. This prospect is causing Ms. Noe "heart palpitations," she said.

"My fear is that if we moved quickly to reprint, and then a [Nader] lawsuit came in, he could get an injunction or a court could realistically put him back on," Ms. Noe said. "My advice was to stay calm and proceed prudently here while we are trying to get information.

"We want to know exactly how much this is going to cost the county" to completely reprint its ballots, Ms. Noe said.

Contact Fritz Wenzel at:

fritz@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.



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