Thursday, November 4, 2004
Ohio seeks vote answers
More machines, early voting suggested to reduce long lines
By Jim Siegel
Enquirer Columbus Bureau
COLUMBUS - As Ohio spends $132 million in federal money to upgrade voting machines next year in all 88 counties, legislative leaders also should fix the problems that cropped up in this election, Secretary of State Ken Blackwell said Wednesday.
Blackwell said he would renew a call to allow early voting in Ohio, which would help prevent the voter crush that left some people standing in line for hours Tuesday around the state. He also wants lawmakers to ensure that they purchase enough voting machines.
"We're poised for a breakthrough opportunity in that we're getting ready to transform the system," he said. "Smart people make adjustments."
Ohio's election went smoother than some predicted, considering more than 20 lawsuits were filed prior to Tuesday and thousands of challengers, assigned by political parties, were inside polling sites.
But as a record 5.6 million Ohioans cast ballots, long lines were a problem across the state.
"It appears as though in some places there weren't enough machines," said Mark Weaver, legal counsel and consultant for the Ohio Republican Party. "People are going to have to make a choice. They're going to have to spend more money in tax dollars to buy lots of equipment, or they're going to have to withstand some long waits in some parts of the state."
Blackwell said he doubts that federal money alone will "reduce the machine-to-voter ratio to the greatest extent possible."
"We got out of a tough situation because of the dignity of Ohio voters and the professionalism of the network of campaign workers, poll workers and election officials," he said. "But you don't want to be forever dependent on that when you have the opportunity to transform the system."
Terry McCoy, president of the League of Women Voters, wondered how many Ohioans got out of line because they couldn't wait hours to vote.
"They saw it coming, yet they didn't marshal the resources to handle the crowds," she said. "Our volunteer poll monitors cited too few machines and too few poll workers to accommodate the voters."
The long lines kept people like 18-year-old Dwight Dehart away. After working eight hours as a welder for a manufacturing company, Dehart drove to his Columbus area polling place to find people who had waited in line for more than three hours.
"I was all for voting, but the lines were too long. I wasn't going to mess with it," Dehart said. "If there were more machines and people got in there and got out, it would have been better.''
John McGory, who waited 90 minutes in nearby Westerville, said the wait made some people wonder if the lines were deliberate.
"We started saying, 'Is this an intentional slowdown to make people think the lines were too long and then leave?' " said McGory, 50, a land developer.
With the state in a financial crunch, it's unlikely much, if any, money will be available next year to purchase voting machines. Sen. Bill Harris, R-Ashland, who is expected to take over as Senate president next year, said he is optimistic the state will get enough money from the federal government.
The Associated Press contributed. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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