Willard Smith has been voting regularly since 1951 — including the last 47 years from the same address in Toledo’s Old Orchard neighborhood.
So he was upset to show up at his polling place at the Sanger Branch Library last Nov. 6 to find that he could not vote for president because he was not registered.
Mr. Smith’s complaint about his lost registration has resulted in an apology from the Lucas County Board of Elections, reinstatement of his registration, and a commitment from that agency that it would contact other voters who could end up in a similar situation.
“On that day, I was pretty unhappy. My wife was even more unhappy,” Mr. Smith, 85, said Monday. “The one good thing that has come out of this is that they’re going to try to do something to correct the problem.”
The mixup began when a man with the same first name, last name, and middle initial applied for registration Aug. 3, 2012. The new Willard Smith lived on Forsythe Street in East Toledo. A seasonal board of elections employee, who is no longer employed by the board, erroneously concluded the registration application from Willard Smith of Forsythe Street was simply an update with a new address for the longtime registered Willard Smith of Middlesex Drive in West Toledo.
Board Director Meghan Gallagher said the clerk had no other information on Mr. Smith of Middlesex Drive, such as his date of birth, driver’s license number, or the last four digits of his Social Security number, that would have tipped her off they were not the same person, and the signatures looked identical.
However, Ms. Gallagher said a closer look at the birth year of Willard Smith of Forsythe Street — 1949 — would have shown that he was not old enough to have been registered to vote in 1965, as was Willard Smith of Middlesex Drive. Ms. Gallagher said the former employee left the board’s employ before the mistake was discovered.
Mr. Smith’s problem came to light when he and his wife, Nathine Smith, showed up at their precinct to vote about 9 a.m. on Election Day. Mrs. Smith’s name was on the precinct voter roll, but Mr. Smith’s was not.
“They were a little puzzled,” said Mr. Smith, a former vice president for business affairs at the University of Toledo who retired in 1989. “They said I could cast a provisional ballot, which I did, but eventually it was not counted because I wasn’t there.”
Mr. Smith contacted members of the elections board and wrote a letter to the board Dec. 8, to which the board responded with an apology and explanation on Jan. 15.
To address the problem, the elections board is planning to send a letter to the 117 voters for whom they do not have a date of birth on file asking them to update their registration. She said that when Mr. Smith registered at his present address in 1965 the elections board did not require date of birth.
“We regret the confusion and apologize for the errors that resulted from the confusion,” Ms. Gallagher said Monday. Ms. Gallagher said the board has mailed voters in the past to get voter registrations updated. She did not know if Mr. Smith got one of those letters, but Mr. Smith said if he had he would certainly have provided the requested information.
The registration mixup occurred in August, the same month that a frustrated Secretary of State Jon Husted put the board under his direct oversight out of concern that the board was not functioning at a professional enough level to be trusted with running the 2012 presidential election.
Ms. Gallagher said the two “special masters” who were overseeing the board were told of the problem. Mr. Husted recently released the board from oversight, but with deadlines to institute new policies covering discipline, budgets, and records storage.
According to Ms. Gallagher, Mr. Smith of Forsythe Street registered last year in Lucas County for the first time. He did not vote in the Nov. 6 election.
Willard Wayne Smith, who was a musician, a Jeep worker, and a construction worker, died in Lakewood (Ohio) Hospital Jan. 4 at the age of 63, according to an obituary in The Blade.
Mr. Smith of Middlesex Drive said he initially suspected political games but now believes the error was unintentional. He said he is registered as a Democrat, although he has registered as a Republican in the past. The employee who made the mistake was a Democratic employee.
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