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Published: Wednesday, 10/20/2004

Elections board awaits challenges

BY FRITZ WENZEL
BLADE POLITICAL WRITER

The Lucas County Board of Elections is bracing for a wave of challenges against thousands of registered voters that could keep them from casting ballots in the November presidential election.

As many as 4,000 voters may be targeted for removal from the list of qualified voters because the board has found residential addresses on their registrations incorrect. The problem was found when the U.S. Postal Service returned registration confirmation cards routinely sent new or relocated voters to the elections office, marked "undeliverable," said Paula Hicks-Hudson, elections board director.

The troublesome registrations are among tens of thousands of new registrations the county elections office has received over the last several months, said Ms. Hicks-Hudson, a Democrat. Lucas County has been targeted by several national groups for voter-registration drives. She said the county has yet to process 10,000 more cards and may take more than a week to get them completed.

A total of 400 registrations were rejected because the forms are incomplete, were not signed, or are otherwise faulty, said Bernadette Noe, chairman of the elections board.

Ms. Hicks-Hudson briefed the four-member elections governing board of the problems at yesterday's meeting at Government Center. Ms. Noe said she is concerned about the 4,000 questionable voter registrations.

"I certainly want them looked at really well, and we certainly haven't had a chance to look at them," Ms. Noe said. "Obviously, with everything that's going on, I wanted to know more."

She said it is too soon to know whether some or all of the registrations are fraudulent.

Ms. Noe is also chairman of the county Republican Party.

County Democratic Party leader Jerry Chabler said he is concerned about the problems with the addresses on these registrations, but he said officials should move slowly to disqualify them from voting.

"If there is a clear intent of fraud, absolutely, whether it's a Democratic vote or a Republican vote, they shouldn't be allowed to vote. But if it's just a mere matter of an address change, or if they put the wrong apartment number on the card for whatever reason, if it's illegible," they ought to be allowed to cast ballots, he said.

The 4,000 registered voters may be the subject of what Ms. Noe called a "prechallenge" that could disqualify them from voting before Election Day. Once the challenges are filed, which could come by the end of this week or early next week, a public hearing is scheduled and a letter will be sent to the registered voters notifying them their right to vote is at risk and they must appear to defend themselves.

But because the board appears to have bad addresses for all 4,000 voters, it is possible none of the voters would receive that notice and may never know their voting rights were being challenged. If they do not appear at the hearing to defend their voting rights, they could be banned from casting ballots by a vote of the elections board.

The 4,000 new registrations in question are just the beginning, Ms. Noe said. The elections board is bracing for a wave of voter challenges during voting on election day, as both local Republicans and Democrats are holding training sessions to teach poll watchers how to challenge the rights of voters to cast ballots on Nov. 2.

She and Mr. Chabler said they expect their parties to field enough observers to staff every one of the 212 voting locations in Lucas County. These observers have the right to challenge on the spot the legitimacy of any voter to cast a ballot.

Once challenged, poll workers running the election at the precinct ask voters questions to determine whether they should vote. The poll workers - two Democrats and two Republicans - then vote on whether the persons should get a ballot.

If they tie 2-2, the challenge fails and the voter is allowed to vote. If the majority of poll workers vote to approve the challenge, the voters areoffered a provisional ballot.

The provisional ballot, however, will not be counted until after an investigation is completed following Election Day to determine if the voter was properly registered and eligible to vote.

Ms. Hicks-Hudson said training of poll workers is under way to make sure they understand the challenge process.

Contact Fritz Wenzel at:

fritz@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.



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