Sunday, October 3, 2004

Write-in ballots pose logistical issues



By Dan Horn
Enquirer staff writer

The four write-in candidates for Hamilton County prosecutor aren't the only people worried about how they'll perform this fall in one of the most unusual elections in county history.

Election officials are also on edge as they grapple with the complexities of a race involving only write-in candidates.

Write-in ballots are more complicated to cast and to count than the punch cards that are tallied by computers. Usually, that's not a problem because few write-in ballots are filled out on Election Day.

But this year, with some 200,000 votes expected in the prosecutor's race, officials at the county Board of Elections will have their work cut out for them. The challenges are many.

Should voters use pencils or pens to write in a candidate's name?

Should the candidates' names be posted at polling places?

How will Board of Elections employees quickly and accurately count so many handwritten ballots?

The four board members - two Democrats and two Republicans - already have doubled the number of employees assigned to hand-count ballots on election night, from 24 to 50. They hope it will take only about an hour longer than usual to count the ballots.

Election officials now are training the employees on how to deal with all those ballots and the inevitable problems that go with them, such as sloppy handwriting and misspelled names.

The rules say that if the name is legible and the voter's intent is clear, then the ballot is valid. That means a candidate's last name is sufficient, even if it's misspelled.

If the bipartisan teams that review the ballots disagree on election night, they'll turn to the board for guidance. And as the nation learned in Florida in 2000, further review is possible through formal challenges if the board members disagree.

The candidate's name can be written with almost anything - pencil, marker, crayon. Polling places will provide pens and pencils, and will show voters a list of write-in candidates if they ask to see one.

Board members have discussed posting the write-in candidates' names in polling places, but that may be illegal. Ohio law traditionally bars the posting of any candidate's name in a polling place.

Email dhorn@enquirer.com




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