The problems call into question both whether every Ohioan’s vote will be counted Nov. 6 and whether the state, always pivotal in close presidential races, can assure the nation a timely, accurate and lawsuit-free count.
“If the Wednesday headlines the day after the election say, ‘All eyes are on Ohio,’ it probably won’t be a good thing,” said Ed Foley, an Ohio State University law professor and a nationally respected expert on election laws.
In Hamilton County alone, hundreds of votes are routinely disqualified in major statewide elections because they are cast in the wrong precinct, often only feet from the correct location. Hundreds more votes have been tossed out for another relatively minor miscue: voters’ failure to seal an inner envelope containing their absentee ballot.
“Every vote is a voice,” said new Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter, who owes her election to a federal court ordering local officials to count some contested 2010 ballots. “People fought, bled and died for the right not only to vote but to have that vote counted.”
And yet the disenfranchisement is -- surprise! -- most likely to happen in Ohio's three largest urban counties, Hamilton (Cincinnati), Cuyahoga (Cleveland), and Franklin (Columbus).
The Enquirer’s examination of how well Ohio is prepared for November found:
• Unless voters take a more proactive approach about how and precisely where to vote, poll workers improve their performance over past elections or courts order new changes before Election Day, tens of thousands of ballots are likely to be disqualified.
• Ohio has adopted only a few of the changes recommended after the 2008 election to improve registration, Election Day and vote-counting procedures.
• All 88 Ohio counties have prepared lengthy election administration plans outlining their preparations for November, including recruitment and training of poll workers, steps to ensure that individuals vote in their correct precinct and how to process ballots. Some, however, have failed to make adjustments that could help remedy past electoral problems.
The bottom line is that in a state that may be decided by a few thousand votes, we could see tens of thousands of votes thrown out. A healthy chunk of them will be in the state's most urban districts. Nothing's changed since these institutionalized problems cost John Kerry the state and the election in 2004, problems created through years of neglect. Now Ohio may decide the White House or control of the Senate once again.
And keep in mind, Ohio does not have strict Voter ID laws like neighboring Indiana or Pennsylvania. Imagine if it did. Tens of thousands more would be disenfranchised. And this will only get worse.