Enquirer News Update   -   Updated 6:40 p.m.

Confusion greets voters in some precincts



By Howard Wilkinson
Enquirer staff writer

Long lines and some confusion met many Hamilton County voters at the polls early this morning, with polls suddenly crowded with hundreds of vote challengers and poll monitors.

By noon, it was clear as well that many Hamilton County voters were confused about how to write in the names of Fanon Rucker and Joe Deters, the two write-in candidates for Hamilton County prosecutor.

Early this morning, a U.S. Supreme Court justice denied a last-ditch effort to keep Republican vote challengers out of hundreds of Ohio polling places, most of them in heavily Democratic and overwhelmingly African-American precincts.

That meant that hundreds of GOP challengers fanned out to the precincts early this morning, with hundreds more "voter protection" agents hired by the Kerry-Edwards campaign and the non-partisan Election Protection Coalition, who were there to monitor the monitors.

But by mid-afternoon, there was little indication that significant numbers of voters were being challenged at Cincinnati's polling places.

"They're observers; they're flies on the wall," Republican election board member Todd Ward said early this afternoon.

Ward and Hamilton County GOP chairman Michael Barrett, also an elections board member, spent the mid-day hours touring west side Cincinnati precincts.

"I've yet to see or hear of anyone actually initiating a challenge," Ward said.

"I've seen more intervention and activism from the voter protection teams." Hamilton County Democratic Party chairman Tim Burke, who is chairman of the elections board, said late this morning he did not believe the GOP challengers were actively challenging many voters.

"It's been relatively quiet, except for the long lines some places,'' Burke said.

As of mid-day, there was only one report of trouble.

At the Holy Name Church Parish House in Mount Auburn, where two overwhelmingly Democratic and African-American precincts vote, a person who was to have been a GOP vote challenger was named at the last minute to fill a vacant position as one of the regular Republican precinct judges who are always on hand to monitor voting.

Voters and vote monitors complained that the GOP precinct judge was questioning every voter about his or her address and "being a jerk about it," Burke said.

Burke and Tony Reisig, a Republican administrator at the board of elections, were dispatched to the Mount Auburn polling place to talk to the poll worker.

"We made it clear that if he did not stop, he would be pulled out," Burke said.

Election Protection Coalition monitors were reporting problems at polling places where two or more precincts vote.

"We've had reports that poll workers aren't doing a very good job putting people in the right lines for their precincts," said Molly Lombardi, a spokeswoman for the Election Protection Coalition. "People stood in line for over an hour in the rain in some places only to find they were in the wrong line. A lot of them gave up and went home."

At many polling places around Hamilton County, voters and poll workers were finding that the names of Rucker and Deters were written on the poll books instead of on the write-in portion of ballots.

Burke said he believed that those were incidents of people not knowing how to cast a write-in ballot and not attempts by Deters or Rucker supporters to influence voters.

"We're telling the poll workers to tape over the names, or, if they can't do that, to get new books," Burke said.

Neither the off-and-on rain nor the long lines seemed to be deterring many voters.

Glenn Collins, 42, of Madisonville, walked into Precinct 2-B, at the Madisonville Recreation Center, determined that he would not be challenged.

"I am excited about a lot of issues and candidates in this election,'' said Collins, an Internal Revenue Service agent. "I see a real opportunity for change, especially getting an African-American as a prosecutor and possibly an African-American as the coroner."

Rucker, one of the candidates for county prosecutor is an African-American.Dr. O'dell Owens, an African- American and a Democrat, is running for coroner.

There were challengers at the Madisonville polling place, but they hadn't been very disruptive.

"I am not here to challenge anybody," said Elaine Fink, a Kerry-Edwards observer. "I am just here to make sure our voters don't get challenged."

About five miles away, as the rain became heavier, Bob Mathias, 50, a small businessman in Mariemont, dashed across a parking lot at Mariemont High School to Precinct Mariemont B. He was among 133 voters who had voted by 8 a.m.

"The turnout is great because there are so many issues of taxes and levies and this is probably the most debated presidential election that I can remember,'' Mathias said. "I can't see why anyone would not vote."

Enquirer reporters Greg Korte and Allen Howard contributed
E-mail hwilkinson@enquirer.com