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Published: Saturday, 3/1/2008

All eyes will be on Ohio to get Election Day right

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner isn't telling voters what to do, but when she walks into her Franklin County polling place on Tuesday, she will not use the touch-screen voting machine.

"It's up to individual preference, but I myself will be asking for a paper ballot ," she said yesterday. "I am more comfortable with a paper ballot."

Voters who haven't already taken advantage of early voting or absentee ballots will have the option of requesting paper ballots if they prefer not to stand in line for voting machines or don't trust the devices.

Ms. Brunner has ordered county boards of elections to have enough paper ballots on hand to equal 10 percent of those registered to vote. The ballots could serve as an emergency backup in case machines malfunction and lines back up as occurred last November in Putnam County during the 5th Congressional District special election.

The Ohio Supreme Court yesterday refused to issue an order requested by Union County to prevent Ms. Brunner from enforcing that order.

She is predicting that as many as 52 percent of Ohio's 7.8 million registered voters will cast ballots in this primary election. The state still has about 20 lawsuits pending over the results of the 2004 election.

"We thought maybe we would escape under the radar after Super Tuesday," she said.

"We really didn't think that Ohio would once again be in the spotlight when it came to the primary election, but what happens in Ohio on Tuesday really could determine the outcome of either party's presidential nominee."

Hillary Clinton's campaign is counting on Ohio and Texas to stop the momentum of Barack Obama on the Democratic side, and the two states could put presumptive Republican nominee John McCain over the top in terms of the delegate count.

While the eyes of the nation will be on Ohio, the eyes of Ohioans will be on Cuyahoga County, which has had more than its share of election problems in recent years.

This year the county has been ordered to warehouse its touch-screen machines and revert to paper ballots tabulated by electronic optical-scan machines, something Ms. Brunner would prefer that every county do on Nov. 4.

"When the rest of the country looks at Ohio, usually they're talking about Cuyahoga County," she said.

"If you talk to elections officials around the state, they tell you over and over again, 'Please, just get Cuyahoga County right. That's going to make the rest of us look a lot better.'•"

Attorney General Marc Dann plans to be in Cleveland on Tuesday just in case. He said he will have enough representatives in the field in close proximity to every courthouse of the state in case emergency legal action is necessary.

"It's a dry run for the November election when the eyes of the country will once again be on Ohio," he said.

"There's no question this is going to be a swing state again. There's no question that our elections have been historically close."

Ms. Brunner and Mr. Dann are Democrats. Neither has endorsed a candidate in this election.

The Republican-controlled General Assembly recently approved emergency legislation allowing Cuyahoga and Van Wert counties to transport ballots from precincts at midday to a central location where scanning of those ballots may begin early.

Mrs. Brunner no longer holds out much hope, however, that the legislature will include as much as $62 million in its upcoming capital budget to fund a similar conversion to optical-scan devices in the other 56 counties, including Lucas, set to use touch-screen machines again on Nov. 4.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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