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Published: Monday, 2/8/2010

Rules en route on mismatches of Ohio voters' data

BY MARK NIQUETTE
COLUMBUS DISPATCH

COLUMBUS - Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner is finishing a plan to address a lingering controversy from the 2008 general election in Ohio that generated national attention, lawsuits, and even death threats.

She expects to issue a directive soon detailing what county boards of elections must do when the name or other personal information a voter provides doesn't match state or federal records after an automatic computer check.

Preliminary guidelines call for counties to mail a notice to voters whose information doesn't match so they can update their records. Some county officials say they're concerned about cost and possible voter confusion.

"I'll send the phone calls to your office," one county elections official told Ms. Brunner after hearing details of the plan at the Ohio Association of Election Officials' Winter Conference in Columbus last month.

Ms. Brunner said that in the weeks leading up to the November, 2008, election, state security protected her because of death threats.

"This is something that needed to be done," she told the county officials.

The 2008 controversy surrounded what elections officials should do when information from newly registered voters does not match records at the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles or the Social Security Administration after an automatic computer check required by a 2001 federal law.

Voters must provide their name, address, date of birth, and either a driver's license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number when they register.

The Ohio Republican Party unsuccessfully sued Ms. Brunner, a Democrat, to release what she said were about 200,000 mismatches.

The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The GOP said mismatches should be investigated to catch bogus registrations and prevent vote fraud.

Ms. Brunner's office denied Dispatch public-record requests for the data.

Ms. Brunner said the state's computer system was not designed to process the names, and she suspected that most mismatches were typos or had nothing to do with fraud, such as someone putting "Nicholas" on a driver's license and "Nick" on a voter registration.

She also worried that the mismatches could be used to improperly challenge or intimidate voters.

At the time, she said the statewide voter-registration database needed to be scrapped and rebuilt. The decision was made to update the registration systems in each county as needed to process mismatch information from the secretary of state's office.

About $123,000 in federal funds has been budgeted for the effort.



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