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Published: Tuesday, 10/5/2004

Newest voters meet deadline, but some may be disqualified

BY FRITZ WENZEL
BLADE POLITICAL WRITER
Olga Vallejo of Toledo answers phones as voter registration forms stack up. The deadline was yesterday. Olga Vallejo of Toledo answers phones as voter registration forms stack up. The deadline was yesterday.
LUKE WARK / THE BLADE Enlarge | Buy This Photo

More than 25,000 new voters in Lucas County are qualified to cast ballots in the Nov. 2 election, with thousands more meeting yesterday's deadline.

Paula Hicks-Hudson, director of the elections board, said the office is awash in new registrations from both parties and several independent groups that have mounted registration drives. Temporary elections workers have been hired to process the registrations and to help prepare requests for absentee ballots.

"We must have them processed by Oct. 21," Ms. Hicks-Hudson said. "We have been quite busy."

However, a quirk in federal law that requires new voters to provide some form of identification will keep hundreds of unwitting Lucas County residents from casting ballots on Election Day, the elections director said.

The Help America Vote Act, enacted after the 2000 presidential election, allows those who mail their registrations to their local board to provide either identification on the form - a driver's license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number - or to provide the identification at the poll Nov. 2. Poll workers will accept such items as a utility bill or other identification linking the new voter to his address.

However, those registrants who signed up as part of a voter registration drive, on their doorstep, church, or at a local shopping center, will not have their registration processed if they did not provide the voter registration solicitor with a form of identification.

Given that Lucas County has been targeted by both political parties and several independent voter registration groups, Ms. Hicks-Hudson said hundreds of voters who think they have been properly registered to vote will discover - perhaps at a polling place on Election Day - that they will not get a ballot.

"You've got people out there signing up to vote in good faith, and we're here doing our jobs, but it's the people in the middle who haven't done a good job. Now, with the deadline, those registrations are no good," Ms. Hicks-Hudson said.

"We had been really vigilant in sending those types of incomplete registrations back" to have the registrations completed, but now it is too late, she said.

So far, 26,200 new registrations have been processed by the board, which more than makes up for a purge of inactive voters - conducted in August - that removed 20,498 voters from the county's roles. Purges of voters who have not cast ballots in the last two federal election cycles is allowed under federal law and is necessary to protect the integrity of the local election system, Ms. Hicks-Hudson said.

Lucas County has 283,965 registered voters.

Terry Burton, director of the Wood County elections board, said yesterday was very busy. "The vast amount of the business has been people calling to see if they are registered," he said.

He said since the beginning of the year, 8,700 have registered in the county, slightly more than 10 percent of the total number of the county's registered voters.

In Michigan, local and county officials reported busy offices and possibly the highest voter registration ever.

In Erie Township, just north of Toledo, Clerk Gayle Burlen said she registered between 20 and 30 people yesterday, including mail applications.

"I've been a clerk for 12 years, and this is the busiest it's been on the last day of registration," she said.

One of those she registered yesterday was a 67-year-old man who told her he had never voted. She said many people who have registered for the first time have one issue or another that interests them.

"I'm just glad they're voting," she said.

In Monroe, County Clerk Geri Allen estimated 108,000 people had registered throughout the county. "It's probably more than we've ever had," she said. It's difficult to know the final tally, she said, because residents can register with township or city clerks.

JoAnn Friar, director of Ohio's Ottawa County elections board, said business was brisk yesterday.

"We are very busy today, both because of the registration deadline and because of absentee voting," Ms. Friar said. "It comes in waves. We've got extra help in, and we've been using them every minute."

Like Wood County, Ottawa County has experienced about a 10 percent increase in the number of registered voters since the beginning of the year.

New registrants receive a wallet-sized card from the elections board in the mail that indicates that political jurisdictions in which they live, and the location of their poll.

Ms. Hicks-Hudson said because of the recent tidal wave of new registrations, it is possible some people may not receive their new voter information card before the election.

The information card is not needed to vote, she said. However, some newly registered voters will have to show some form of identification that links them to their address - a driver's license, a utility bill, or something similar - under a provision of the Help America Vote Act. Ms. Hicks-Hudson said the percentage of new voters who must show a form of identification should be small.

New voters who want to guarantee they have been added to the county voter registration database can check online at the elections Web site: www.lucascountyvotes.org.

The Web site also has a polling place locator that can be activated by typing in any address in the county. It has been updated to reflect the most recent changes made to precincts and voting locations, Ms. Hicks-Hudson said.

The director said military and overseas ballots were mailed over the weekend, and that domestic absentee ballots will begin hitting the mail today. More than 17,188 voters have requested absentee ballots. Absentee ballots must be received, not postmarked, at the elections office by 7:30 p.m. on Election Day when polls close.

Blade staff writer Elizabeth Shack contributed to this report.

Contact Fritz Wenzel at:

fritz@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.



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