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Published: Thursday, 10/7/2004

Officials scramble to revise absentee ballot

BY FRITZ WENZEL
BLADE POLITICAL WRITER
Elections officials in Ohio adjust absentee ballots after the disqualification of independent candidate Ralph Nader. Elections officials in Ohio adjust absentee ballots after the disqualification of independent candidate Ralph Nader.
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With the question of whether independent candidate Ralph Nader will be allowed back on the presidential ballot in Ohio hanging over their heads, local elections officials continued to notify absentee voters not to give him their vote.

Lucas County workers yesterday were trying to catch up with a backlog of nearly 20,000 requests for absentee ballots that were delayed, in part, because of the Nader disqualification.

Elections board members discovered that by the time Mr. Nader was disqualified last week and Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell had issued a directive telling counties how to handle the problem, about one-third of the county's optical scan ballots had been printed.

The board decided to put a red strike through Mr. Nader's name on those ballots, and to otherwise warn that a vote for Mr. Nader would not be counted.

"We're mailing them out," Jill Kelly, deputy director of elections in Lucas County, said of the absentee ballots.

The first 533 absentee ballots left the elections office yesterday. Voters must return them to the elections office by Nov. 2.

So far, the county has received 19,672 requests for absentee ballots, said Paula Hicks-Hudson, the county elections director.

A bright orange flyer is being put into Lucas County's absentee ballot packets, and bright pink labels are being affixed to the secrecy envelope in which the ballot is returned to the board. The sticker is being placed right next to where voters have to sign their names to cast a valid ballot.

The color of the Lucas County flyer is "fluorescent shockingly orange, so loud that voters are unlikely to miss it. I picked it out myself," Ms. Kelly said.

In a related development, Harry Barlos, president of the Lucas County commissioners, has sent a letter to state officials calling for the state to reimburse counties for printing costs incurred because of Mr. Nader's late disqualification.

Mr. Barlos charged that Mr. Blackwell delayed his ruling on the ballot challenge, costing counties thousands of dollars.

"As president of the County Commissioners Association of Ohio, representing all 88 Ohio counties, I am asking the state of Ohio to reimburse all counties for this expense," the letter states. In Lucas County, ballot reprinting costs are estimated to be $30,000.

In Michigan, Mr. Nader won a court ruling early last month to be placed on the ballot, which meant elections officials there were spared the drama playing itself out in Ohio.

In Fulton County, elections Director Gloria Marlatt said the county is doing two things to alert voters that Mr. Nader is disqualified: "We're putting a little note in saying he is no longer on the ballot, and we are drawing a line through his name."

Terry Burton, director of the Wood County Board of Elections, said the Nader factor has hardly affected her county because election officials had not had their election printing finished when the candidate was tossed off the ballot.

Like Fulton County, Wood uses punch cards, a system that, unlike optical scan systems, is easier to adjust for late changes.

"What we did is, we are holding a spot open on our presidential ballot that currently reads 'Candidate not certified.' This allows us to keep the ballot position open should Mr. Nader be put back on the ballot," Mr. Burton said. Should Mr. Nader win a place on the ballot, they would replace "Candidate not certified" with Mr. Nader's name.

Contact Fritz Wenzel at:

fritz@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.



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