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Published: 9/13/2008

Ohio GOP sues to block early voting

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS Ohio Republicans yesterday sued Democratic Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner over her directive allowing newly registered voters to immediately cast absentee ballots during a five-day window created by two overlapping laws.

This is about a chief elections officer who is willing to illegally open up the voting process when it benefits Democrats, but she ll use every little technicality to keep Republicans from a ballot, said Ohio GOP Chairman Kevin DeWine.

The feud is over Ms. Brunner s advice to county boards of election that brand-new voters may take advantage of an overlap between two laws, one requiring registration no later than 30 days before the election and a second allowing qualified electors to cast absentee ballots up to 35 days before the election.

Republicans contend that those who have just registered haven t yet been proved to be qualified electors eligible to vote. Ms. Brunner contends they will be by the time those absentee ballots are counted at the close of polls on Election Day. The dispute will now be decided by the Ohio Supreme Court.

Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama s campaign plans to take advantage of the window by transporting unregistered voters from campaign rallies directly to local election boards, where they would simultaneously register and vote.

This pattern of attempting to inject chaos and confusion into the state s election process has the very real potential to shake voter confidence in our elections, Ms. Brunner said. This kind of litigation is a continuation of the formula that was so successful in 2004 create confusion and chaos. The more this continues, the greater potential damage to voters as Election Day draws nearer.

The lawsuit was filed just as Ms. Brunner offered some middle ground in a separate battle over her advice to county boards that they reject applications for absentee ballots from those who failed to check a box that was included on applications mailed by Republican nominee John McCain s campaign to more than 1 million voters.

Checking the box would indicate that the applicant was a qualified elector eligible to vote on Nov. 4.

Official applications from the secretary of state s office include no such box but do specify just above the voter s signature that signing amounts to a declaration under penalty of law that the signer is a qualified elector. There was no similar declaration above the signature on the McCain forms.

Were I to have bent the rules or ignored one section of the law, first of all I wouldn t be following the oath that I took when I took this job, Ms. Brunner said. Second of all, if I were to do that for one side or the other, there would be the allegation that I was being nitpicky and unfair or that somehow I was promoting one side and promoting voter fraud.

As a compromise, she said either her office or county boards will mail notices to those whose applications are rejected.

Those notices will include passwords enabling applicants to access the secretary of state s Internet web site and confidentially provide the missing information necessary for approval.

The mailings would also include applications that the voter could again submit by mail if using the Internet is not an option. Voters have until noon on Oct. 1 to apply for absentee ballots.

Mr. DeWine called that proposal pathetic and suggested there would be no similar dispute if the application mailers had come from the Obama campaign.

When you look at state law as to what s required on absentee ballot applications, every bit is on that form, Mr. DeWine said.

She s choosing to be hyper-technical and is essentially restricting Republican voters access to absentee ballots.

Contact Jim Provance at:jprovance@theblade.comor 614-221-0496.



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