Plain Dealer, Friday, August 04, 2006
Ted WendlingPlain Dealer Bureau Chief
Columbus -- Voting-rights activists on Thursday produced what they said is the most compelling evidence to date that Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell is trying to suppress the vote in November.
In an advisory that contradicts a provision in the voter-reform bill legislators passed last year, Blackwell's office informed county boards of election on June 5 that voters must present a photo ID "showing the voter's name and current address" to cast a regular ballot.
That conflicts with the new law, which permits a person to vote by regular ballot even if the ID -- typically a driver's license -- has the voter's former address.
After ignoring the activists groups' entreaties since early June -- even after they threatened to go public -- Blackwell's office sent an e-mail to all 88 county elections boards Thursday. It reiterated instructions the office sent in May that voters who present an ID with a former address may cast a regular ballot if they provide the last four digits from their ID card.
"It's not satisfactory," said Suzanne Gravette, spokeswoman for the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio, or COHHIO. "It's not a directive and it's not working," she added, citing a COHHIO survey that showed mass confusion among county elections officials.
Among 27 elections boards that were surveyed, 11 said voters who show up with ID that doesn't match their address in the poll book will have to vote by provisional ballot. Michael Vu, director of the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, said his poll workers have been instructed to allow such voters to cast a regular ballot.
Voting by provisional ballot requires a person to fill out four pages of forms and risk that his vote won't be counted if he makes even a minor error, COHHIO Executive Director Bill Faith said. He noted that 22 percent of the provisional ballots cast in Ohio in 2004 weren't counted.
Faith also released a statistical study by researchers at Cleveland State University showing that up to 1.2 million Ohioans carry driver's licenses that list former addresses. The report determined that between 325,000 and 638,000 of those people will vote in November.
In a related development Thursday, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered Blackwell to pay $64,613 in attorney fees to the Sandusky County Democratic Party.
It concerned a lawsuit the county party filed challenging Blackwell's directive to boards of elections pertaining to the counting of provisional ballots in November 2004.
The ID dispute is the latest chapter in a relentless campaign that voting-rights groups and Democrats have waged against Blackwell over what they perceive as the Republican gubernatorial candidate's attempt to disenfranchise Ohio's poor and black voters.
Blackwell and his supporters have responded that the critics are simply partisans who don't like the reforms that majority Republicans passed last year.
The two sides have agreed on virtually nothing and disagreed again Thursday.
"This issue is not about a problem with the statute, this issue is a problem with implementation of the law," Faith said, placing the blame squarely on Blackwell.
Responded Blackwell's spokesman, James Lee: "I don't see how it could be any more clear."
Plain Dealer reporter T.C. Brown contributed to this story.
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