Sunday, October 24, 2004

Election boards prepare for it all as vote day nears

By Connie Mabin
The Associated Press

CLEVELAND - Whether it's record voter turnout, the threat of terror, a blackout or even an accident involving a car carrying ballots to be counted, Ohio's elections boards are planning as never before for one of the most intense and anticipated Election Days in the nation's history.

"We're trying to cover all four corners," said Michael Vu, elections chief in the state's most populous county, Cuyahoga.

The board has installed metal detectors, issued employee security cards, and come up with a "Doom's Day" plan should a threat or worse force elections officials to move to an undisclosed, secure location away from Cleveland.

There is much more to the Nov. 2 plan that's been in the works for more than year and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Dealing with a power outage, handling bad weather, managing unruly crowds and having extra voting machines and ballots are on the checklist.

A police officer will escort all poll workers delivering ballots to the board for counting. Authorities had to retrieve ballots one year after the car they were in was involved in an accident, Vu said.

Vu and other Ohio election officials also are planning for the hundreds of lawyers and others expected to be in and around polling places in the state both presidential campaigns say is a must-win. That's besides extra poll workers, security and what's expected to be a record number of voters.

In Dayton's Montgomery County, the election board has a contingency plan in case of a terrorist attack. John Williams, director of the Hamilton County Board of Elections, declined to discuss specific security measures. He said voters won't see armed police officers in polling places because election officials are aware that some voters might find that intimidating.

"You have to walk a fine line. We are trying to take steps," Williams said. "But we're cognizant of the concerns."

Lt. Kurt Byrd, spokesman for the Cincinnati Police Department, also declined to discuss the security plans for polling places.

"It's not something we want to advertise, what we're doing," Byrd said. "Obviously, it's a different time than it was before Sept. 11, 2001, since the last election time."

Bellwether Stark County is telling voters to prepare for long lines.

"I think the public needs to know they may have to wait a few minutes in line just because of the increased numbers," deputy elections director Jeanette Mullane told The (Massillon) Independent. "People may want to take a few extra minutes when they go to the polls."

Stark will have 1,456 poll workers this year, plenty to keep up with high demand, she said.

Many elections boards mailed notices to voters last week, telling them their correct precincts and polling locations.

The voter guides also explain how to use controversial punch-card machines most Ohio counties still have.

Most boards also have been working with the political parties to set ground rules in what is expected to a closely watched voting day.

State law requires the boards designate a presiding judge at each precinct to help decide challenges. Cuyahoga will call its coordinators who Vu said will be nonpartisan referees with supervisory experience. They'll also help with other disputes and be responsible for managing poll workers.

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