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Published: Saturday, 10/16/2004

Lucas County and state sue Blackwell over voter registrations

BY JAMES DREW
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

The Lucas County and Ohio Democratic parties yesterday sued Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, accusing him of failing to enforce uniform standards for people who register to vote in the Nov. 2 election.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Toledo, focuses on the Ohio voter registration form. It includes a space, Box 10, for applicants to provide their driver's license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number.

In a Dec. 31, 2003 memo to county boards of elections, Mr. Blackwell's office said based on the federal Help America Vote Act, voter registration applications can't be accepted if Box 10 isn't filled out and the form is submitted in person at a county elections board, a public library, or a motor vehicle department.

The exception would be if the applicant said he didn't have the information and wrote "none" in Box 10.

But in that same memo, the secretary of state's office said if a person completes the same form by mail, he or she wouldn't have to check Box 10.

The county election board would consider the form valid, but would "flag that elector's name in the poll book so that, the first time that elector appears at the polls to vote, poll workers would ask the elector for proof of identity and obtain the missing information," Mr. Blackwell's office said.

The Democratic lawsuit, which seeks a preliminary injunction, says Mr. Blackwell under federal law must ensure that Ohioans are able to register to vote under "uniform statewide standards."

The lawsuit does not quantify how many registration forms have been ruled invalid because Box 10 was not filled out by those handing in forms in person, but the Democrats believe that a "substantial number of the citizens who have been disenfranchised would register as Democrats."

The lawsuit states that the secretary of state's office has defined third-party groups that deliver voter registration forms as "in person" applicants.

"Mr. Blackwell is trying to make it more difficult for people to vote rather than easier, and that is not his role," said Steve Hartman, an attorney with the Toledo law firm which filed the suit on behalf of the Lucas and Ohio Democratic parties.

Carlo LoParo, a spokesman for Mr. Blackwell's office, declined to comment, saying state attorneys had not reviewed the lawsuit.

The lawsuit has been assigned to Judge David Katz.

Contact James Drew at:

jdrew@theblade.com or

614-221-0496.



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