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Published: Thursday, 4/18/2002

Absentee ballots headed for the mail, 2 weeks late

BY FRITZ WENZEL
BLADE POLITICAL WRITER

The Lucas County Board of Elections is expected to start mailing absentee ballots today to voters who have requested them for the May 7 election. The move is made two weeks after state law prescribes that they were to be made available to voters.

“It looks like everything will go into the mail tomorrow,” said Larry Loutzenhiser, deputy director of the elections office. Workers “are trying to get everything finished up,” Mr. Loutzenhiser said.

About 2,500 voters in the county have requested absentee ballots, which were supposed to be available by April 2.

Ohio Revised Code chapter 3509.01 declares that absentee ballots “shall be printed and ready for use on the 35th day before the day of the election.”

“We are a little behind right now,” said Mr. Loutzenhiser, who blamed the delay in processing the absentee ballot requests on a new system.

“You've got three weeks to go [before the election]. I don't think it will have that big an effect,” said Tom Noe, a Republican and acting chairman of the four-member elections governing board.

“Could you do them quicker? I think you might be able to, but I think they're doing a good job given all the added pressures right now,” Mr. Noe said.

Elections office workers are preparing the absentee ballots under the pressure of outside scrutiny, as two investigations continue into the operation of the board and management practices of office director Antoinette Szuch and Mr. Loutzenhiser.

One investigation by the county prosecutor's office is nearly concluded. Another by the office of Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell is into its second week.

The jobs of Ms. Szuch and Mr. Loutzenhiser, as well as the entire governing board, could be on the line.

Assistants for Mr. Blackwell, who is Ohio's top election official, may decide to sweep all the county election leaders from their posts, depending on the outcome of his investigation into several irregularities that have cropped up in the office in the last eight months.

Paula Ross, the leading Democrat on the elections board, said the late mailing is reflective of disarray in the elections office. “From the perspective of a board member, it is distressing that we again have failed to follow statutory guidelines in making the absentee ballots available to voters,” Ms. Ross said.

But it should have little impact on the election, Ms. Ross said.

“Broadly speaking, many candidates are relieved to hear they are going out late because they are just now getting ready to mail [campaign literature] to these voters,” she said.

Mr. Loutzenhiser said the ballots are late because the office managers decided this would be the election in which they would alter the way they prepare ballots to be mailed.

Instead of affixing address labels to the outgoing and return envelopes as is usual, they printed the addresses of voters onto the return envelope, then inserted that into a window envelope that would be sealed and mailed to the voter.

Mr. Loutzenhiser said they had trouble getting the printing of the address on the return envelope lined up so it could be seen when inserted into the window envelope.

The problem was solved Monday, he said.



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