The Lucas County Board of Elections decided yesterday to print new ballots without Ralph Nader's name on them, and to mail the first batch by today to nearly 800 county voters who are either in the military overseas or civilians outside this country.
The move likely averts the potential of a federal lawsuit by any overseas voter who, had the county delayed much longer in sending absentee ballots, might have had grounds to claim they were disenfranchised because they had no chance to get their voted ballot back to the county in time, elections board Chairman Bernadette Noe said.
She urged election workers to "move with all due haste to get the overseas and military ballots out."
While the four-member board was split Thursday over how to best handle a directive issued earlier this week by Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell advising county elections boards that Mr. Nader was not qualified to be a candidate for president in Ohio, it agreed unanimously on a course of action yesterday.
Its decision was complicated by the fact that its printing vendor, Dayton Legal Blank Inc., had already printed ballots for 149 of the county's 495 precincts - including Mr. Nader as a candidate on the ballots - when it got an order from the board Thursday to stop the presses.
In its second emergency meeting at Government Center in as many days, the board agreed to:
●Send those ballots already printed to absentee voters in those 149 precincts around the county, but only after elections staffers manually mark an "X" over Mr. Nader's name on the ballot. Notices advising voters not to cast a vote for Mr. Nader will also be included in those absentee ballot envelopes, and stickers will carry the same message on the envelope. As many as 6,000 voters in the county will receive those ballots, which will begin to be mailed Monday.
●Send absentee voters in the remaining 346 precincts in the county fresh ballots without Mr. Nader's name as soon as they are produced by the printing vendor. Mailings could begin going out to those people by the end of next week.
●Set aside another 75,000 ballots already printed - all containing Mr. Nader's name - that were to be used at the polls on Election Day. The board will order a new round of ballot printing from Dayton Legal Blank so Mr. Nader's name appears on no ballot given to a voter on Nov. 2.
The board will continue to print ballots in the election office for anyone wishing to cast their vote at the county elections office in Government Center. Those ballots will not contain Mr. Nader's name.
Paula Hicks-Hudson, director of the elections board, estimated the cost of conforming with Mr. Blackwell's directive to deal with the disqualification of Mr. Nader would be "about $30,000," including computer programming, printing, and staff overtime costs.
The county's solution invoked two of the three possible remedies to deal with the Nader disqualification offered in the Blackwell directive - reprinting some ballots and sending notices to voters.
Elections board attorney John Borell, an assistant county prosecutor, advised the board that he saw a small possibility of trouble on the horizon, because the Blackwell directive ordered counties to choose one solution, not two.
Mr. Borell said that while he does not believe the board violated the spirit of the directive, it could be open to trouble if Lucas County is caught up in a Florida-style election controversy after Nov. 2.
"That would be an absolute nightmare to have to defend," he warned the board. But after the meeting, he said that "if I thought they were doing something wrong, I would have interrupted them."
The board action solves the county's election problems for now, but Ms. Noe acknowledged all bets are off if Mr. Nader files a court action, as he has in other states, to get back on the Ohio ballot.
She said she has no idea what the county would do if Mr. Nader prevailed in such an action. "At that point, there will be another directive" from Mr. Blackwell advising counties of their options, she said.
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