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Published: Wednesday, 11/9/2005

Ballots still being counted into today

BY CHRISTOPHER D. KIRKPATRICK
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Lucas County elections workers counted votes until early this morning to give a final tally to a colorful mud-slinging Toledo mayor s race and other contests.

The hallways of the Lucas County Board of Elections office were lined with the red and green bags that held the votes from new touch-screen voting machines as workers raced to deliver final tallies.

Vote counting at a chaotic Lucas County board of elections did not finish until about 9 a.m., when the final vote tally was released. The unofficial final resuls showed Carty Finkbeiner ousting Mayor Jack Ford 62 percent to 38 percent.

Mr. Finkbeiner, 66, scored the biggest win of his five runs for mayor.

Jill Kelly, the director of the Lucas County Board of Elections, was predicting the final vote would not be ready until 2 a.m. but it took another seven hours.

During an impromptu news conference she called after midnight, and after a harried late evening and early morning of vote counting that included security guards at one point ejecting Blade staff from the board of elections office, Ms. Kelly blamed the delays on a lack of paid volunteers.

She said the community did not respond to her call last Wednesday for 124 paid volunteer poll workers. She would not say how many workers called in sick.

Our board members even went out and picked up voting cards, she said early this morning. In order for the computers to work the human beings have to walk the results over here.

She also said a system of using rovers to pick up ballots was responsible for the delay. A rover, who is a volunteer, might drive to four or five polling places. If one polling place was delayed, then they all were delayed.

As a result, large bunches of tallies would come in at once and only as quickly as the slowest polling place could deliver the bags.

The alternative would be for each polling place to drive in results, individually, as soon as the workers there were finished counting the votes. But this year s volunteers were scarce.

About an hour before Ms. Kelly s news conference in the lobby of One Government Center, security guards prevented media from riding elevators to ask county officials for explanations. Television news anchors and crews paced, hoping in vain to broadcast election results on the final official television newscasts of the night.

It didn t happen. Many Toledo-area voters had to wait until this morning to find out vote totals.

On his mobile phone in the lobby, City Council candidate Frank Szollosi was trying to make election night plans but suspected he wouldn t get a full tally for hours.

I favor accuracy over speed, he said, but the data processing and the reporting of public information ... this needs to be a learning experience it s not a presidential election, these are local races.

In the sealed bags were the printed ballots and tallies produced by the new touch-screen Diebold voting machines, in use for the first time in Lucas County in a full county-wide election. They were used on a limited basis in 2003.

Close to 11 p.m., the bags from Springfield Township and other areas were arriving. The last bags did not arrive until about 11:40 p.m. After midnight, there were still more than 14,500 absentee ballots to add to the results.

Lucas County lagged behind all other area counties in returning results, including in Michigan, where cities handle their own tallies and there are no centralized boards of elections. Southeast Michigan cities were finished reporting results to The Blade by 10 p.m.

Voters and poll workers yesterday gave mixed reviews of the Diebold machines that allow voters to use touch screens instead of paper ballots or levers behind curtains.

A ballot prints inside the machine, like an ATM. But voters don t get a receipt, like they do at the ATM.

Some said it was easier.

It was better than going through filling in bubbles or going behind a curtain, said Helen Henderson, 59, who voted at the Girl Scout Council building at 2244 Collingwood Ave.

This election was the first full Lucas County ballot to use the Diebold touch-screen machines, which are controversial because of the technology and also because the company s chairman and CEO, Walden O Dell, was a top fund-raiser for President Bush in Ohio.

Some early voters received the wrong ballots for where they lived, causing improper votes to be cast. Issue 33, a proposed 1.9-mill levy for Waterville Township police, was wrongly placed on the ballot for some voters in Waterville and Whitehouse. Elections officials caught the error by late morning yesterday.

Other morning voters were given paper ballots or left without voting because the machines were not set up in time by poll workers who were trained just a month and a half ago, they said.

Ken Jerome, 67, showed up in the morning at St. Petri Lutheran Church, 3120 South Byrne Rd., to find most of the machines not working, he said. After waiting about 25 minutes, he left without voting.

Ms. Kelly said workers in those situations used provisional ballots. Others of the 2,000 poll workers were talked through problems, she said.

Wood County elections Director Terry Burton said similar problems with the Diebold machines in his county were because of human error.

The Old West End site is a mixing point of political opinion. But from 6:30 a.m. to about 10:30 a.m., few voters could cast touch-screen ballots because machines were not set up.

Eddie Small, the precinct s presiding judge, said he knew turnout was higher this year because his legs were tired.

We had to use paper ballots for awhile. We processed close to 100, he said. We figured it out ourselves. By 10:30, it kind of kicked in.

Problems in Lucas County didn t stop Secretary of State Ken Blackwell from declaring new voting machines a success statewide in an e-mail press release: It was a great day for Ohio voters, he wrote. More than 15,000 new voting machines were used by nearly one million voters today and we were overwhelmed with positive reports.

Things could have been worse.

In Detroit, the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department yesterday obtained an order from a Wayne County judge to preserve up to 50,000 absentee ballots in an investigation into possible fraud in the office of Detroit city clerk Jackie Currie. The investigation centers on concerns that some ballots may have been submitted using the names of dead voters at addresses that do not exist.

Blade staff writer Erica Blake contributed to this report.



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