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Published: Saturday, 11/12/2005

Poll workers blast use of 'rovers'

BY JOSHUA BOAK
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Poll worker Larry Dargart says the use of rovers on Election Day held up the ballot count in Lucas County. Poll worker Larry Dargart says the use of rovers on Election Day held up the ballot count in Lucas County.
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At 9:45 on election night, Larry Dargart was tired of waiting for the polling station at Rogers High School to officially close. Voting had ended two hours ago, but poll volunteers needed a "rover" to dismiss them.

Their rover, one of 52 drivers who collected the electronic and paper votes from each of Lucas County's 324 precincts, had yet to appear, Mr. Dargart said.

After a diabetic colleague said she needed food, Mr. Dargart phoned the Lucas County Board of Elections. "I have a person here getting sick," he recalled saying. "Do you want that responsibility?"

"I'll have to talk to a supervisor," Mr. Dargart said he was told.

Poll workers yesterday rejected claims made by Jill Kelly, director of the the Lucas County Board of Elections, that many of them were "frightened" of the Diebold touch-screen voting machines used during the election. They said the board's rover system actually held up the ballot count.

Because of what the Ohio Secretary of State's Office described as a "cascading delay," Lucas County released unofficial election results at 9 a.m. Wednesday, well behind the state's other 87 counties.

The Toledo branch of the NAACP will hold a community hearing about the election Nov. 19 at Warren African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Mr. Dargart, a Realtor, was already upset when the rover walked into the school just before 10 p.m. He did not remember her full name, only their heated exchange.

"Where ... have you been?" he claimed to have said. "We've been waiting for you for an hour and a half."

The rover claimed to have spent most of her day managing problems with voting machines at McTigue Junior High. "I'm just doing my job," Mr. Dargart recalled her as saying.

Marie Hardy, a grandmother who's been a precinct judge for seven years, said she never received a visit from her rover after the polls closed at Marshall School. She eventually dropped off the returns at the board of elections' headquarters at Government Center.

"It was poor planning," she said. "I don't understand why they didn't have enough trust in the presiding judges to bring the cards down."

Ms. Hardy also struggled to work with her assigned rover, a woman she called "Hitler-like." But what upset her most was that volunteers seemed to shoulder the brunt of the board of elections' criticism.

"I just don't think it was fair to say that we were the ones who were ill-equipped," she said. "It was them. They didn't think this out."

After expressing her gratitude to all the volunteers, Ms. Kelly said yesterday that the choice to use rovers was an attempt to correct difficulties from previous elections.

"In the past, we've had situations where polling workers left memory cards in the machines and the buildings were locked," she said. "Obviously, it needs to be fine-tuned."

Any refinements to voting procedures would occur after a planned "get-together" where rovers and precinct judges recap the election, Ms. Kelly said.

During a Thursday news conference, Ms. Kelly said the board would improve its recruitment of poll workers to produce returns in a timelier manner.

Carlo LoParo, a spokesman for Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, said the use of rovers was unique. "As far as we can tell, the other 40 counties that used electronic voting machines had the poll workers bring the receipts to the board of elections. That was the secretary's recommendation," he said.

Mr. LoParo said the secretary of state would send a team to Lucas County next week to investigate the election. After problems with ballot security in the 2004 election, the agency placed the elections board under administrative watch.

Based on initial reports, Mr. LoParo said his questions originated with what happened after the polls closed. "The board did a pretty good job in terms of issues that came up during the day," he said.

Blade staff writer Christopher D. Kirkpatrick contributed to this report.

Contact Joshua Boak at:

jboak@theblade.com

or 419-724-6728.



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