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Published: Tuesday, 5/2/2006

Commissioner, governor's races in voters' hands

BY JIM TANKERSLEY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

On a dreary election day morning, Lucas County voters have yet to line up today at the polls, elections officials said.

And as of 9 a.m., voter turnout was about 3.5 percent for the county.

I think that s low, said Jill Kelly, director of the Lucas County Board of Elections, pointing out that average turnout for a partisan primary is between 22 and 25 percent for the day. Ms. Kelly had no number to compare to the 9 a.m. total from previous elections.

Ms. Kelly said there were some slow starts at several stations she declined to say how many where several machines weren t running.

With about 50 poll workers having called off, Ms. Kelly is down to 1,930 workers of the needed 1,980; she said no fill-in, or replacement workers, were found.

We were disappointed, Ms. Kelly said, saying it was difficult to train people last-minute. When that happens on the eleventh hour, what do you do?

By noon, Ms. Kelly said things were running smoothly. The board now has 22 machines to tally incoming votes, stored on cards from the county s 1,613 computerized voting machines, compared to the prior election s six tallying machines. Provided there are no complications, each incoming card takes two minutes to process.

The wait is over for voters in Lucas County and across Ohio, who will cast their ballots today in an unusually hot primary election season.

But the big question is how long they'll wait for the results.

This much is certain: Polls open at 6:30 a.m. and close at 7:30 p.m. in Ohio. The statewide headliners include smoldering primaries for governor in both major parties; Lucas County's marquee includes two property tax levies for the Toledo Zoo and crowded races for county commissioner.

Lucas County voters will make their picks on touch-screen voting machines. In the first major touch-screen test last November, the public didn't see final vote counts until the next morning.

The county elections board director, Jill Kelly, released a report yesterday that blamed the delays on inadequate training for poll workers, cramped quarters in elections offices, and a prolonged attempt to pull vote totals from four voting machine memory cards - all of which Ms. Kelly said the board has taken pains to fix.

Officials have simplified training procedures, toppled walls at One Government Center to clear space for more machines, consulted with the public and government leaders, and aggressively recruited more elections workers, Ms. Kelly said.

"I've tried to put into place what we need to correct those deficiencies this election," she said. "We've done everything humanly possible."

Even so, at least one new problem arose yesterday, when 50 poll workers quit on Election Eve. Several political analysts expressed skepticism that all would run smoothly today.

"It's new machines again," said Jim Ruvolo, a Democratic political consultant in Toledo. "I'm not terribly optimistic that things are going to turn out well - and not just in Lucas County, around the state."

If the vote count slows, at least Ohioans will have company. Political junkies around the country will tune into the election, looking to a state roiled by Republican scandal for clues on how midterm elections might play out nationwide this fall.

"We'll learn lots about the '06 mindset after OH's 5/2 primary," the Washington-based political blog Hotline on Call wrote yesterday. "What's the real story on [Democratic voters'] intensity? Watch turnout, and compare. The GOP should have higher numbers since all big statewide [races] are on their side. But what if they don't?"

Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell's office estimates a 25 percent turnout statewide. Voters should have plenty of motivation, starting with Mr. Blackwell's battle against Attorney General Jim Petro in the Republican primary for governor. On the Democratic side, U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland (D., Lisbon) is a heavy favorite against former state Rep. Bryan Flannery.

In Lucas County, the zoo is asking voters to approve not one, but two property tax levies to fund operating costs and capital improvements.

An open county commissioner's seat features dueling primaries: Maumee Mayor Tim Wagener, Toledo City Councilman Phil Copeland, and lawyer and law professor Ben Konop for the Democrats; Toledo City Councilman George Sarantou and Sylvania school board member Pam Haynam for the Republicans.

Contact Jim Tankersley at:

jtankersley@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.



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