Thursday, October 14, 2004

Vote monitor optimistic

By Cindi Andrews
Enquirer staff writer

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission - created after Florida's election problems in 2000 - says it hopes to prevent provisional ballots from becoming the hanging chad of 2004.

"We will have challenges this year that will be different than 2000, but they will be challenges," DeForest Soaries Jr., chairman of the bipartisan commission, told Ohio reporters in a conference call Tuesday.

The commission was created two years ago as part of the Help America Vote Act - attempts to prevent a repeat of the vote-counting problems that plagued Florida in the Bush-Gore race.

The federal law also provided money for states with punch-card machines to buy less error-prone voting equipment, but Ohio ran out of time to make the switch this summer.

Punch cards don't have to be a problem, said Soaries, former New Jersey secretary of state. The commission's Web site lists the best ways to use punch-card voting, and several of the examples of best practices came from Hamilton County. For instance, county election workers use compressed air to clean chads out of the ballot counters before every election.

"There are good ways to use punch cards and bad ways," Soaries said. "I don't expect to have this year the kind of problems we had in Florida for the simple reason that we had Florida."

Confusion over provisional ballots could create more problems than punch cards this year, he said. Votes are cast provisionally when the voter's address or name has changed from what's registered. The new information must be verified before the vote is counted.

The Help America Vote Act requires voters to cast provisional ballots in their proper "jurisdiction." Some Democratic groups say that should mean voters can vote anywhere in their county, but some states' election officials - including Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell - say they can vote only in their new precinct.

The Election Assistance Commission does not have a position, Soaries said: "This is a state decision."

Two other potential problems cited by Soaries: Twenty-five percent of the country will use new voting machines, and election offices have been swamped with new registrations.


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