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Published: Friday, 10/29/2004

Ohio GOP appeals decision by judge

BY JAMES DREW AND STEVE EDER
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

Ohio Republicans yesterday asked a federal appeals court to overrule a federal judge so that hearings can be held on thousands of GOP challenges to voter registrations.

If the challenge hearings can't be held, then Republicans are hoping that a court or Ohio's chief elections officer will order that an estimated 23,000 Ohio voters receive provisional ballots on Tuesday instead of regular ballots.

"We know the eyes of the nation are on us and we want a fair election process," said Mark Weaver, an attorney repersenting the Ohio Republican Party. "We are troubled that the Democrats have been using lawsuits to remove important safeguards from Ohio law that will increase the potential of voter fraud.''

Republican Attorney General Jim Petro yesterday also appealed Wednesday's decision by U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott of Cincinnati.

She granted a temporary restraining order sought by Democrats to halt hearings scheduled by election boards in six counties that the Democrats named as defendants: Cuyahoga, Franklin, Lawrence, Medina, Scioto, and Trumbull.

The Ohio Republican Party filed 35,000 challenges last week in 62 of 88 counties, based on letters county boards of elections sent out earlier this year to newly-registered voters that were returned as "undeliverable. "

But about 7,500 of those challenges were withdrawn in Wood, Montgomery, Fairfield, and Hamilton counties because of a computer database glitch, Mr. Weaver said, and some county elections boards chose not to accept hundreds of others.

Democrats have accused the GOP of trying to suppress the vote for John Kerry, especially the vote of newly registered voters in Ohio.

Judge Dlott has scheduled a hearing this morning on the Democrats' request for a preliminary injunction in their lawsuit against Republicans.

Democrats yesterday asked Judge Dlott for an emergency order to prevent boards of elections not named as defendants in the lawsuit from holding challenge hearings.

The Lucas County Board of Elections plans to move forward with tomorrow's hearing to debate the merits of more than 900 voter registrations that Republicans challenged.

The Lucas County elections board will go forward with its hearing based on legal advice, said Bernadette Noe, a board member and chairman of the Lucas County Republican Party. The hearing is set for 11 a.m. in Toledo Council Chambers at Government Center downtown.

In nearby Sandusky County, Board of Elections Director Barbara Tuckerman said there will be a hearing today at 1 p.m. on the merits of about 50 voter registrations challenged by Ohio Republicans. The board started out with 67 challenges, but was able to help attorneys pare down the list by verifying information with several of the voters listed in GOP challenges.

Ms. Tuckerman said most of the problems with the registrations occurred because they had minor errors in addresses, which caused mailings to be returned.

"This is a joke, " said Ms. Tuckerman, who said her office has been flooded with phone calls since the challenges were filed. "It is becoming a banana republic. I'm beginning to think we should load our guns and fight it out on the street.''

Even if it is interpreted that the federal ruling applies to the entire state, Ms. Tuckerman, a Democrat, said her county board will move forward with some form of a hearing today because the community has already been notified. It would be too late to cancel today's hearing, she said.

In Wood County, Board of Elections Director Terry Burton said about 20 challenges were lodged by Republicans, but none of the names appeared on the list because they reside in another county. Ohio GOP officials said it made a computer mistake. Wood County has no plans for a hearing.

There are no challenges in Williams County or Ottawa County, two are pending in Fulton County, and five have been resolved in Henry County, according to elections officials.

In Van Wert County, Board of Elections Director Linda Stutz said three residents who have questionable voter registration forms will be eligible to cast provisional ballots on Election Day. Ms. Stutz, a Republican, said members of the GOP questioned those registrations and took copies of the voters' returned postcards.

She said the pre-challenges are creating a distraction for elections officials trying to prepare for Tuesday.

"We've got enough on our plate, just like every other board of elections,'' she said.

Contact James Drew at:

jdrew@theblade.com or

614-221-0496.



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