Boards of elections set to deal with provisional ballots as Ohio polls close

11/4/2008
BY STEVE EDER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Election 2008 is now in the hands of Ohio's 88 boards of elections.

The polls closed across the state at 7:30 p.m. with long lines of voters at voting sights across the region. All voters in line by 7:30 will be permitted to cast a ballot.

As the votes are tabulated across the state, questions are lingering about the large numbers of provisional ballots cast throughout Ohio.

Thousands of Ohioans are believed to have cast provisional ballots, which are used when pollworkers can't confirm a voters identity.

Provisional ballots will be counted only after state election officials confirm the voter is properly registered ten days after the election.

It hasn't yet been determined how many voters cast provisional ballots in Lucas County, but Linda Howe, the director of the board of elections expects the number to be high. She said confusion over the identification requirements caused some pollworkers early in the day to wrong require properly registered voters to cast provisional ballots.

"People are supposed to be able to vote normally as long as the last four digits of your drivers' license number are correct," Ms. Howe said. "We've been working all day on clarifying [to pollworkers] what the law is."

Katie Tillman was one of those voters apparently issued a provisional ballot incorrectly.

Ms. Tillman said she voted early this morning at Augsburg Lutheran Church on Sylvania Avenue in Toledo, but was issued a provisional ballot even though she knew she was properly registered. She said she returned at her lunch hour to discuss her concerns about voting provisionally, and eventually was issued a regular ballot.

"If I wasn't so outspoken I would not have gotten to vote [on a regular ballot]," Ms. Tillman said.

Stevon Sutton, 36, is hopeful that his provisional ballot will count.

Mr. Sutton said he visited two polling locations in Toledo's central city before eventually casting a provisional ballot at Sherman Elementary School on Tuesday afternoon. Mr. Sutton recently moved and thought his residence was squared away in time for Election Day.

Instead, he found himself trekking across the city to be sure his vote would be counted. He planned to visit the Lucas County Board of Elections to show his identification as verification yesterday.

"There's a lot of unnecessary steps I have to go through to vote," Mr. Sutton said. "But I have to [do this] for my vote to count."

Ms. Howe is confident that the legitimate provisional ballots will be counted eventually.

"As long as they voted [at the correct location], their ballots will count just not until ten days," Ms. Howe said.

Ms. Howe said she expects the turnout to be high, but perhaps not eclipsing the 80 percent projection. The numbers won't be available until much later Tuesday evening.

When Lucas County's results begin pouring in this evening, they will be posted to http://apps.co.lucas.oh.us/election/LCElection.pdf

Tuesday morning, Lucas County was recognized in Columbus for standing out

in the state for its long morning wait times.

In her midday briefing, Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, Ohio's top elections official, highlighted the Lucas County as reporting the longest average wait times of one hour. Her staff said the information, which was anecdotal, was culled from the morning hours of voting.

Ms. Howe said she heard that report, but didn't know the source, saying that she wasn't aware of any unusually long-lines.

"Not that I was told," Ms. Howe said.

Other voters in northwest Ohio but outside of Lucas County waited well beyond one hour to vote.

In Perrysburg, for example, voters waited as long as two hours to cast ballots at Woodland Elementary School. The lines finally subsided around noon but pollworkers expected the pace to pick up again in the evening.

Stephen Vessey, the presiding judge at the school, blamed the long wait on a big turnout and a lengthy ballot. For some, it took up to ten minutes to fill out the ballot. "Everybody has been saying that we are really swamped," Mr. Vessey said, adding that the polling location's only glitches have been with the 12 electronic machines running out of paper, or in one case, breaking down.

"They have all been going all day," Mr. Vessey said about the machines, adding that only 20 or so voters this morning used paper

ballots.

Voters have been cooperative, despite the lines, Mr. Vessey said.

"Everyone has been pretty good sports about it," he said.

There were some reports about electronic voting machines failing and several voters who complained about being sent to the wrong polling locations.

At the Kent Branch Library, for example, an electronic machine briefly sputtered Tuesday morning, poll observers said.

"It went down but it came back up," said Earma Algee, who is assisting voters through the Voter Bill of Rights Protection Program, one of many groups on hand to observe voting throughout the city.

Poll workers also sent some voters back and forth between voting sites.

"We had some individuals come out and their names showed up on the books but their addresses didn't so they were sent back and forth to different polls," Ms. Algee said.

Similar problems caused frustration for voters at the University of Toledo's Scott Park campus where two polling locations are within eyeshot of each other. Poll workers inside the Scott Park Community Center have sent several voters to a nearby polling place inside the campus where they are registered to vote.

"Everybody is getting to the right tables," said Selina Perryman, the presiding judge at Scott Community Center.

One woman, after voting and before exiting the voting location, yelled twice: "Obama is going to win," before Ms. Perryman quieted her by reminding that politicking isn't allowed inside the polls.

Toledo residents on Tuesday morning were also reporting that they were getting phone calls erroneously informing them that their polling locations have changed.

Ron Rothenbuhler, chairman of the Lucas County Democratic Party, said the office has received about 25 calls from concerned people who have received messages telling them their polling location has been changed.

Mr. Rothenbuhler is urging people to call the party headquarters or the Lucas County Board of Elections to verify polling locations before heading to a different location.

"It's not unheard of to have this happen to disenfranchise a voter or to confuse them," he said.

Rafael Cuellar, 58, of the city's north end, said he has received two messages on his answering machine telling him his polling location has been changed.

The messages are purported to be from the Obama campaign.

Mr. Cuellar, who has voted in the same polling location for the last 30 years, was concerned and called the Democratic Party office. They verified that his polling location had not been changed.

"I don't know how many people are receiving these phone calls," he said.

Lucas County is expecting a big turnout Tuesday and weather conditions could help. Temperatures crept into the 70s this afternoon under a sunny sky.

Linda Howe, the director of the Lucas County Board of Elections, reported no major problems in the first hours of voting.

She said a small number of precincts may have opened late.

"We have precincts that probably didn't [open on time], where people overslept or didn't get there in time," she said.

The biggest concern, she said, has been asking poll workers to handle more types of ballots than in the past.

"It's the first time we've asked them to do more with electronic, paper, and provisional ballots," Ms. Howe said. "They get confused sometimes."

She said she's received several calls about small issues and her office has dispatched staff to handle situations as they arise.

There are reports from Wood County that voter turnout is heavy.

As of late morning, the wait to vote at the Perrysburg Junior High School in Wood County was about 90 minutes. That was also the length of time early morning voters were experiencing at Woodland Elementary in Perrysburg, while those voting in late morning were experiencing waits of an hour.

Statewide, things appear to be off to a clean start, said Jeff Ortega, a spokesman for Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner.

"All indications are polls opened on time and are running smoothly across the state," Mr. Ortega said.

He emphasized that it is important that polling locations have signage letting voters know their balloting options.

"Secretary Brunner has said the paper ballots, in an attempt to ease long lines and in case of machine failure, would be available to voters," Mr. Ortega said.

Elena F. Reynolds, 69, used a paper ballot when she voted Tuesday morning at Union Grove Baptist Church on Nebraska. She waited at the door while a relative waited in line for an electronic machine inside.

Ms. Reynolds said she chose a paper ballot because she recalled the frustrations of using electronic machines four years ago.

"I figured with the paper I could read it and get it over with," Ms. Reynolds said. "Now I'll wait for the results."

At Fulton County Elementary School in central Toledo, more than 70 voters waited in line to enter the polls when doors opened at 6:30 a.m.

"I'm excited," said Bobby Lockett, 70. "This is history."

Mr. Lockett and his neighbor, Alphonso Anderson, 50, headed to the polls at about 3 a.m.

"I wanted to beat the rush. Look at the line," he said, coffee in hand and sitting on a folding chair.

Inside the polling centers, voters filed in to choose paper or electronic ballots. The line still wound out the door ten minutes after the polls opened.

Like Ohio, Michigan is expecting a huge turnout for Tuesday's election.

In Lambertville, more than 500 lined up to enter Lambertville United Methodist Church when voting started in Michigan at 7 a.m.

The lines moved swiftly inside, with many voters saying they voted in less than a half hour. By 7:30, the lines had subsided.

"It was fast," said Larry Peters as he walked out of the church. "They lined up way down the street there."

Blade staff writers Jim Provance and Laren Weber contributed to this report.

E-mail seder@theblade.com or call 419-304-1680 to share your voting experiences.