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Published: Tuesday, 11/9/2004

Chairman vows to meet count deadline

BY FRITZ WENZEL
BLADE POLITICAL WRITER

The Lucas County Board of Elections will meet a Dec. 1 deadline to count the 216,453 votes cast in the Nov. 2 general election and to certify the results, board Chairman Bernadette Noe vowed yesterday.

But she told fellow board members in a planning meeting yesterday, "I have no confidence that we know what we're doing to get to Dec. 1."

She said she was upset that the elections staff has no realistic plan to make sure all the votes are properly accounted for in time to meet the deadline. The board directed staff leaders to develop one swiftly. Local elections officials are allowed to begin their "official count" of ballots Saturday morning.

During the official count, elections workers laboring in teams made up of one Democrat and one Republican recheck the vote tallies from election night.

They first check poll books to make sure the numbers and signatures of voters in each of the county's 495 precincts match their number and signatures on file. If discrepancies are found in the poll books, workers must resolve them before moving forward.

They then re-scan all of the optical scan ballots one at a time, checking to make sure each vote is properly counted. Once a team completes the fresh count of a precinct's votes, they each sign off on the accuracy of the count and move on to the next.

Paula Hicks-Hudson, director of the elections office, said more than 20 teams will undertake the count.

Ms. Hicks-Hudson said she is concerned that, to meet the state deadline, the elections board may have to incur tens of thousands of dollars in new expenses to hire extra workers, including workers hired through temporary staffing firms, which, she said, are more expensive.

In preparing for the November election, the elections board incurred more than $30,000 in extra personnel costs paid to temporary staffing companies, said Jill Kelly, deputy director of the board.

"We are going to need additional funds. It's going to be quite costly," she said.

The board agreed to allow her to seek more money from the Board of County Commissioners.

Election boards around the state are adding up costs for what was likely the most expensive election in Ohio history.

In Cuyahoga County, commissioners approved additional spending of $1.5 million to pay for election board overtime and other expenses.

In Allen County, the election board exceeded its $500,000 budget by almost $150,000, hiring double the normal amount of part-time workers.

The county again used optical scan paper ballots in the election, which have proven to be expensive to print and time-consuming to count.

The tabulators are under lease from Diebold Election Services, and will be replaced by electronic touch-screen machines, perhaps as early as next year.

A staff report to the elections board members included an update on the research into whether provisional ballots cast on election day are valid.

Of the 1,548 investigated so far, fewer than half - 709 - were considered to be valid.

Of those found to be disqualified, 494 were cast by people not registered to vote; 218 were cast in the wrong precinct; 57 did not include a required statement by the voter affirming that they are qualified to vote, and 29 were found to contain signatures different from the signature the voter had on file, said Ms. Hicks-Hudson. She added that 41 provisional ballot envelopes were deemed to be empty.

Overall in Lucas County, 6,719 provisional ballots were cast.

Contact Fritz Wenzel at:

fritz@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.



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