Friday, December 24, 2004

In Ohio, almost 1 in 50 votes for president don't count

- Here's something that has been largely overlooked amid all of the complaints about voting irregularities in Ohio during the Nov. 2 election:

Nearly 97,000 ballots, or 1.7 percent of those cast across the state, either did not record a preference for president or could not be counted because the voter selected more than one presidential candidate.

An analysis by Scripps Howard News Service found that Ohio recorded the second-highest number of missing votes in the country, behind California. Elections experts say a large number of missing votes in a high-profile race like president should raise a red flag that something may be amiss.

Secretary of State Ken Blackwell said it's difficult to know what happened because the numbers don't include a breakdown of how many voters simply chose not to vote for president or how many picked more than one presidential candidate.

But he said the data reinforces his belief that the state must move away from punch-card ballots and toward electronic machines that prevent voters from picking more than one candidate in the same race.

Voters in 68 of Ohio's 88 counties used punch-card ballots in November. Electronic voting machinery must be in place in every county in Ohio by May 2006.

On the other hand, Blackwell said, some voters probably chose not to vote for president because they didn't like either of the major candidates on the ballot.

"Given human nature, when you're talking about 5.8 million people casting a vote, it wouldn't be too far-fetched to think that you have a small percentage of people who would say, 'A pox on both of your houses,' " Blackwell said.

"I just hear, as I crisscross the state talking with voters, some people don't think they have a clear choice and they think it's (between) tweedledee and tweedledum. Sometimes they just take a pass and focus on those issues and candidates that they know and that they see have a clear difference."

The number of missing votes in Ohio increased over the last presidential election. This year, there were 96,580 missing votes, compared to 93,991 four years ago. Blackwell attributed the increase to the fact that nearly 1 million more voters cast ballots in this year's contest than four years ago.

As for percentages, the number of missing votes in Ohio actually declined. Four years ago, 2 percent of all ballots cast in Ohio did not register a vote for president or could not be counted because of double-voting. This year, that number dropped to 1.7 percent.

The three Ohio counties with the highest percentage of missing votes were Coshocton County, where 1,365 ballots, or nearly 8 percent of all ballots cast, did not register a vote for president; Van Wert County, which reported 698 missing votes, or 4.5 percent; and Holmes County, which had 570 missing votes, or 4.48 percent.

Mary A. Fry, director of the Coshocton County Board of Elections, attributed the number of missing votes in her county to a mental health issue that was on the ballot. Voters were asked to approve a property tax levy on which the proceeds would go to mental health programs in the county.

"A lot of people voted on a mental health issue and nothing else," she said.

In Van Wert County, elections officials said the problem could be traced largely to a voting machine in one precinct. Some 400 votes had to be thrown out after elections workers in one precinct borrowed a punch-card reader from another precinct.

The order in which candidate names appear on the ballot in Ohio is rotated from one political jurisdiction to another. But elections workers forgot to rotate the ballot when they borrowed the punch-card reader in Van Wert County, making it impossible to determine which presidential candidate the voter was trying to vote for, said Carlo LoParo, spokesman for the Secretary of State's office.

Holmes County traditionally has a high number of missing votes because the county has a large Amish population, said Lisa Welch, director of the Holmes County Board of Elections.

"Traditionally, our Amish do not vote on candidates, they only vote on issues," Welch said. "They do not feel it's their right to judge men."

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Also see the extensive collection, of vote fraud articles at whatreallyhappened.com

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