Thursday, November 4, 2004
Warren vote count was slow, others OK
By Erica Solvig
Enquirer staff writer
As the nation awaited Ohio's presidential returns, Warren County elections officials were still waiting for the last ballots to be delivered from Maineville early Wednesday morning.
They didn't arrive at the county administration building until almost 1 a.m. The delay kept candidates and residents up until 2 a.m. to learn final, unofficial results.
Long lines were common Tuesday across Ohio, the focus of intense campaigning this year because of its crucial role as a 20-electoral-vote swing state. They were particularly noticeable in Greater Cincinnati's fastest-growing county, where some voters waited three hours in the rain.
No other Southwest Ohio county reported such long lines. Clermont County had a few problems, but still had all votes in hand by 10 p.m. Tuesday. Meanwhile, elections officials in Butler and Hamilton counties called the election process a success.
"I don't think anybody expected the voter turnout we had," Warren County elections board chairman Bob Hammock said. "We just hope to eliminate that frustration in the next national election."
In heavily populated areas such as Mason and Hamilton Township, people were still voting after 10 p.m.
Some voters were so fed up they left without casting ballots, and some questioned why there weren't more polling places to meet the demand in a county that's grown by more than 14 percent since the 2000 presidential election.
Counties are allowed up to 1,400 voters per precinct, and Warren County's 157 precincts haven't reached that limit yet, according to Warren County Board of Elections Director Susan Johnson.
Officials are also barred from dividing precincts and creating precincts between the primary and general election. So even after the influx of 21,000 new voters, "there was no time to create new precincts," Johnson said.
Warren will discuss additional precincts for future elections, Hammock said Wednesday.
Faced with the same problem, Butler County spent an additional $400,000 for more voting booths, to add 400 poll workers and hire about 35 part-time staff this year, said Betty McGary, deputy elections director. Officials also assigned "guides" to precincts with large numbers of new registrations to solve problems and direct people.
"We were able to avoid all the nightmares," McGary said, adding that no precincts reported staying open beyond 7:30 p.m.
In the weeks leading up to the election, Hamilton County's focus was on whether GOP and Democratic challengers would be allowed into the polls to watch out for ineligible voters.
Come Tuesday, the biggest slowdown was the all-write-in race for county prosecutor, which held up vote counting more than anticipated.
Final, unofficial results came at about 3:30 a.m.
Even so, early results were reported well before Warren County began seeing numbers.
"After all of the battles that went on ahead of time, Election Day came off with surprising smoothness," Hamilton County elections board chairman Tim Burke said.
Clermont County voters at the three busiest locations waited an hour to two hours Tuesday, according to elections board member Tim Rudd.
In many instances, election officials improvised, moving ballot booths from a less busy precinct to ones with long lines.
"The board will have to look once again at the sizes of some precincts here," Rudd said Wednesday.
Warren County had sent out additional workers, ballots and booths to high-traffic locations, too. While some voters expressed frustration, others said the wait was worth it.
"It's our duty," said Lisa Jackson, a Deerfield Township resident who waited 21/2 hours before casting her vote around 10 p.m. Tuesday. "You must do this."
Cindi Andrews, David Eck, Reid Forgrave and John Kiesewetter contributed to this report. E-mail email@example.com
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