By Jim Siegel
Enquirer Columbus Bureau
COLUMBUS - Two Senate Democrats on Thursday called for the resignation of Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, accusing him of trying to suppress the vote after he ordered county boards of election to accept ballots only if people vote in their proper polling locales.
By limiting where people can cast a ballot on Election Day and confusing county boards of election about the thickness of voter-registration forms, Blackwell is creating barriers to eligible voters, said Sens. Teresa Fedor of Toledo and C.J. Prentiss of Cleveland.
Calling for Blackwell's resignation, Prentiss said, "is to put him, really, on notice that we're not going to let the voters of Ohio be disenfranchised in this election."
Blackwell, who said he isn't going anywhere, defended his directives and noted they have been in place for more than a decade.
He accused the Democrats of trying to develop a chaotic situation ripe for legal challenges after the election.
"What these folks are anticipating is a race that's going to be close enough that it will be within the margin of litigation," Blackwell said.
"There are some clear signals what they're up to."
The Ohio Democratic Party this week filed a federal lawsuit attempting to block Blackwell's order that county boards of election accept ballots only if people vote in their proper polling locations.
Democrats said that under the federal Help America Vote Act passed in 2002, counties should accept ballots as long as people are voting in the correct county. By limiting the location, they argued, Blackwell will discourage newly registered voters who may go to the wrong polling place. A ruling on the lawsuit is expected Oct. 15.
Estimates show Democrats in Ohio have signed up more new voters than Republicans, and state Democratic Chairman Denny White acknowledged this week that he stands to lose more from the directive than the GOP.
Democrats also raised concerns about Blackwell ordering election boards to accept voter registration forms only if they are printed on 80-pound stock paper, heavier than ordinary letter paper.
Blackwell on Wednesday issued a clarification, telling boards to accept voter registration on any paper thickness. But while some were ignoring the order, other county boards had already been forcing some voters to re-register .
"Now to reach back and quote a law that we've never used - have we ever been talking about what weight a piece of paper is in order to make it valid?" Prentiss said. "This is what makes it partisan."
Blackwell said the same law has been in place since Bob Taft was secretary of state in the mid-1990s, and no one has complained before. The thicker paper ensures postal equipment won't tear up the registration form, he said.
Saying he's not the "paper police," Blackwell reacted to confusion over the directive by sending county boards a clarification.
Blackwell also is facing national attention for his actions. A New York Times editorial Thursday criticized his directives and their impact particularly on poor and black voters, saying "They have no place in our democracy."
Blackwell said his critics are suffering from "partisan rage."
"I pray for their speedy recovery," he said.
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