Barry M. Horstman reports:
Perhaps the major problem with Election Day in Ohio Tuesday was this: It may not be over in at least some races.
With tens of thousands of Ohioans casting provisional ballots that will remain uncounted until at least mid-November, results in some local races may not be clear until families are beginning to defrost their Thanksgiving turkeys.
Overall, voting at the polls Tuesday, though not without problems, appears to have come off relatively smoothly, as more serious concerns that some worried could suppress votes or undermine electoral integrity did not emerge to a significant degree.
“When I was asked whether we had any irregularities, I said, ‘Just the regular irregularities,’ ” said Tim Burke, who chairs both the Hamilton County Democratic Party and county Elections Board. “I haven’t seen anything malicious out there. It wasn’t anything like we feared.”
Provisional ballots, however, could prove to be every bit the post-election headache some predicted.
Statewide numbers on provisional ballots – cast when there are questions over voters’ eligibility, often after they move or change their name without updating their registration – were released Wednesday morning.
Four years ago, about 207,000 provisional votes were cast statewide. Many believe that number could grow this year, in part because of a new program that extended absentee ballot applications to all Ohio voters. Those who did not use requested ballots, however, had to vote provisionally if they showed up at the polls. The number of unused absentee ballots as of Monday totaled about 177,000; that number likely will shrink over the next 10 days as mailed absentees arrive by the Nov. 16 deadline.
Under state law, those ballots cannot be counted until at least Nov. 17 as part of an official tabulation that must be completed by Nov. 27.
While provisionals lived up to their pre-election billing, other issues – notably, widespread worries that conservative groups such as Texas-based True the Vote might roll out poll workers and observers who did more to intimidate voters than help them – appeared to pose isolated rather than systemic problems.
Ellis Jacobs, a lawyer with the Miami Valley Voter Protection Coalition, said, for example, that by midway through Election Day, he had received only a single report of “an overzealous person acting up” in a Montgomery County polling place.
A similar report surfaced at Rockdale Academy in Avondale, but after Burke and eight other lawyers quickly arrived to investigate, they learned nothing improper had occurred.
In Hamilton County, a range of poll problems were seen Tuesday:
• An apparent error by poll workers in Forest Park caused voters who should have been able to cast a regular ballot having to instead vote provisionally. Burke said the problem appears to have stemmed from poll workers mixing up lists of new registered voters and those who had requested absentee ballots.
In Norwood Precinct A/B, poll worker confusion over the identification required of voters had the same effect. Stephanie Cornett said she observed a poll worker erroneously asking voters for photo IDs, which are not needed under Ohio law. Although the problem was corrected after she brought it to other officials’ attention, Cornett said of those who earlier had to unnecessarily vote provisionally: “This is a form of voter suppression.”
• Voters in Green Township Precinct H at St. Antoninus Parish were asked to mark their ballot number on their actual ballot, effectively removing the secrecy of the ballot. Don Jaquet said he and his wife were asked to mark their ballot in that fashion because of difficulties with the precinct’s optical scanner.
• A polling place in Evanston opened about 45 minutes late after a worker failed to show up to open the building. That kept a line of about 100 people waiting, Burke said, but the line quickly dissipated after the polls finally opened.