Tuesday, October 5, 2004

Blackwell dismissive after Jackson blasts voting rule



By Gregory Korte
Enquirer staff writer

CLEVELAND - Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell again came under fire Monday - this time from the Rev. Jesse Jackson - for issuing directives that Democrats say will deprive tens of thousands of the right to vote.

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Jackson, standing on the steps of the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, used Blackwell's name in the same sentence as Eugene "Bull" Connor, the Alabama police commissioner who turned fire hoses and police dogs on civil rights marchers in Birmingham in 1963.

"Now we have beneficiaries of our work engaging in election schemes to undermine the right to vote," Jackson said of Blackwell, a Cincinnati Republican who is the first African-American elected as Ohio's chief elections officer - or any statewide executive office.

At issue: a Blackwell directive to the state's 88 county boards of election that prohibits voters from casting so-called "provisional" ballots if they aren't registered or try to vote in the wrong precinct.

"Clearly, blacks are being targeted in these suppression schemes," said Jackson, founder of the Rainbow/Push Coalition and a former candidate for the Democratic nomination for president. Jackson is in Cleveland this week to campaign for Sen. John Kerry.

Blackwell shot back: "That's partisan rage and political shenanigans, and it's come to be expected from Mr. Jackson."

As the former ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Commission, Blackwell said, he's fought for the expansion of voting rights not just in the United States but around the world.

Blackwell said a state planning committee - which included state Sen. Mark Mallory, D-Cincinnati - unanimously approved the rules in 2003. Mallory said he had a different interpretation of the 2003 report, which promised to make provisional balloting "more inclusive."

"When we were having hearings on Ohio law, Jesse Jackson was nowhere to be found. That, in my mind, makes his motives suspect and perhaps disingenuous," said Blackwell, who has described the 2004 presidential contest in Ohio as being "within the margin of litigation."

With the passing of Monday's voter registration deadline, Democrats are making provisional balloting the next battle over ballot access. They filed a federal lawsuit in Toledo last week hoping to overturn Blackwell's directive.

They say 2002's Help America Vote Act requires voting officials to offer provisional ballots - those that are cast and sealed in envelopes until the voter's eligibility can be determined - whenever there's a dispute.

Blackwell argues that state law requires voters to cast a ballot in their home precinct in order to discourage fraud and conduct an orderly election - and that 28 states have the same law or one that is more strict.

Democrats said the urban poor are most likely to be turned away at the polls.

"This really disproportionately affects people who live in rental housing, people who move around more in these uncertain economic times," said U.S. Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, a Democrat who represents Cleveland's east side. "It has little impact on someone who's voted at the same address over and over again."

But Blackwell, who chaired the state's 2000 census count, disputes the notion that low-income people are more mobile than the affluent.

"This assumption that minorities and low-income people should be treated as mentally challenged siblings is just insulting," Blackwell said.

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E-mail gkorte@enquirer.com




ELECTION 2004
Campaigns war over Cleveland
Voter signups record in Ohio
Ohio court race attracts big money
Kerry slams Bush on stem-cell issue
Blackwell dismissive after Jackson blasts voting rule
Nader sues to be included on Ohio ballot
Bush enacts more tax cuts as he campaigns
Cheney-Edwards debate takes on increased importance
Election 2004 page

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