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Voter mobilization groups blast Blackwell

Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell's verbal attack Thursday on U.S. District Judge James Carr was characteristic of his attempts to deny Ohioans their right to vote, a spokesman for a group mobilizing voters for the Nov. 2 election said yesterday.

"It is clear that Secretary of State Blackwell has tried to complicate the voting process. We want to simply the process," said Myron Marlin, communication director for the Voter Protection Program, which was among the plaintiffs who filed a lawsuit recently decided by Judge Carr.

"Whenever an official tries to deny someone their right to vote that just makes them more determined. That is why we are expecting a large turnout on Election Day," Mr. Marlin said.

Mr. Blackwell, a Republican who is seeking his party's nomination for governor in 2006, said Judge Carr was "legislating from the bench and in this case the judge is legislating from the beach" after the federal judge blocked the secretary of state's directive to state poll workers concerning the use of provisional ballots on Nov. 2.

The secretary of state charged the judge was making his ruling about how to conduct Ohio's Nov. 2 vote from the beaches of Florida.

Saying the directive violated federal election law, Judge Carr ruled Wednesday that people who show up to vote on Election Day, but whose names are not on voter rolls, must be offered a provisional ballot and could have their vote for president and federal offices counted if they are determined later to be registered to vote in the county they voted - even if they voted outside their home precinct.

Mr. Blackwell has appealed to the U.S. Circuit Court in Cincinnati and submitted to the court new directives for instructing poll workers about provisional ballots.

But Judge Carr ruled the revised directive didn't comply with the federal election law and was "drastically underinclusive" and "every bit as much in violation." He said the instructions failed to clearly inform poll workers about when and how to offer provisional ballots.

Mr. Marlin said Mr. Blackwell's role is to improve the process for voters, not complicate it.

"Our position is that it is inappropriate for an election official to make voting harder when it is their goal to make voting easier," he said. "We know the law is on our side and that is why we are engaged in a widespread effort to protect the right of voters."

Bill Faith, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio, a nonpartisan group mobilizing low-income people in eight Ohio cities to vote, agreed.

"Mr. Blackwell seems to be going in the opposite direction in denying people the right to vote. I just can't believe [Mr. Blackwell] is behaving this way to a federal judge. I find it a bit unbelievable," Mr. Faith said.

Mr. Blackwell said he believed Judge Carr was in Florida when the revised directive was submitted and shot back on Thursday that Judge Carr was "legislating from the beach."

Judge Carr was seen in U.S. District Court on Wednesday, the day after Mr. Blackwell submitted the directive that Judge Carr said failed to follow the Help America Vote Act of 2002.

Richard Kerger, a Toledo lawyer who was on the legal team that filed the lawsuit on Sept. 27, said Judge Carr talked with attorneys on both sides while vacationing in Florida.

"I think it is absurd that a public servant working on his vacation is subject to criticism. [Judge Carr] was on the phone to all counsel, including Mr. Blackwell, darn near three times a day," Mr. Kerger said.

Carlo LoParo, a spokesman for Mr. Blackwell, said yesterday that the instructions for provisional ballots desired by Mr. Blackwell are shared by 26 states and the District of Columbia and comply with federal election law.

Yesterday Mr. Blackwell got a boost in his appeal of Judge Carr's ruling on provisional ballots when the Bush administration weighed in with a brief in support of his position with the appeals court.

Department of Justice lawyers yesterday, in a "friend of the court" brief, stated that Mr. Blackwell is within his authority under federal law to require that a voter appear at the correct polling place in order to be issued a provisional ballot.

Steve Hartman, a lawyer for the Ohio Democratic Party, said he was not surprised by the Justice Department's filing. Mr. Hartman declined further comment, saying he had not read all of the government's arguments. Meanwhile, Judge Carr issued a related but separate decision favorable to Mr. Blackwell when he ruled late Thursday against the Lucas County and Ohio Democratic Parties.

The case involved a space, Box 10, on Ohio Voter registration forms asking applicants to provide their driver's license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number.

Mr. Blackwell's office told county boards of elections that the registration applications couldn't be accepted if Box 10 wasn't filled and the form was submitted in person at a county elections board, a public library, or vehicle department.

Under the secretary of state's directive, which was issued in December, the registration of applicants who wrote "none" in the space, indicating they did not have the information, would be accepted by the election boards.

However, election boards were told applicants didn't have to check Box 10 if forms were mailed. Democrats alleged that Mr. Blackwell's voter registration policies were not uniform.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Contact Mark Reiter at:

or 419-724-6009.

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