splef-ty \'splef-te̅ \ adj: nifty, novel, cool or clever.
Fri, 01 Oct 2004

Bureaucrats for Disenfranchisement, Part 2

Bowing to public pressure and, perhaps, a lawsuit filed by the Ohio Democratic Party, Mr. Blackwell has “restated” the 80 lb cardstock requirement. The Columbus Dispatch reports Blackwell’s spokesperson LoParo as saying that (all along?) they wanted official to process the thinner forms and just send out a heavier stock form for permanent record. That is certainly not what his original directive said, and it’s not what many counties were doing, but a bureaucratic obstacle to removed is a bureaucratic obstacle removed.

Blackwell’s provisional ballot directive still seems to stand. We should keep the pressure on. Many voters go to the wrong polling place by accident; they shouldn’t lose their vote for statewide and national offices because of it.

In other news, Blackwell’s office struck Ralph Nader from the Ohio ballot because many of the signatures were collected by employees of an out-of-state contractor who did not follow the requirement that a circulator be a qualified elector (registered Ohio voter). The 3,708 valid signatures remaining was below the required 5000. Mr. Nader’s campaign is expected to appeal. Mr. Nader lost an appeal at the US Supreme Court yesterday and will not be on the Oregon ballot.

(requires paid subscription)
Blackwell ends paper chase
Some could be unable to vote because of flap over registration forms
Wednesday, September 29, 2004
Catherine Candisky


Don Harter stacks some of the record number of absentee ballots the Franklin County Board of Elections is dealing with this year. About 25,000 ballots were mailed out yesterday, the first day they were available for the Nov. 2 election.

Under fire from voting-rights advocates, Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell retreated yesterday from a directive that critics said would slow voter-registration efforts and even block some people from casting a ballot Nov. 2.

At issue is a reminder Blackwell issued this month to county boards of election that voter-registration forms must be printed on “white, uncoated paper of not less than 80-pound text weight,” a heavy, cardlike stock.

While the Franklin County Board of Elections and others have continued accepting forms submitted on lighter-weight paper, some county elections officials said yesterday they have been disqualifying registrations because the paper was not thick enough.

Critics charged that the confusion and inconsistency threatened to prevent tens of thousands of wouldbe voters from participating in the general election and could trigger lawsuits challenging the results. They also blasted Blackwell for issuing the directive less than a month before OhioÕs voter registration deadline and at a time when elections officials are working aroundthe-clock to keep up with recordsmashing registration efforts in a presidential battleground state.

“There could be chaos on election The deadline to register to vote is Oct. 4. For information about how to register, contact your county board of elections, consult the Ohio secretary of stateÕs Web site at ohiospirit.org, or call 1-877-767-6446. day, and at the very least there is going to be inconsistencies,” said Scott Britton, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio.

“We should be making it easier for people to register to vote, not harder.”

Jocelyn Travis, Ohio coordinator for the Election Protection coalition and People for the American Way Foundation, said, “We canÕt let a piece of paper stand between people and their right to register and vote.”

The national coalition of more than 60 civil-rights organizations has been assisting voters and has trained 25,000 poll monitors to assist voters in black and Latino precincts in Ohio and 16 other states.

Last night, a spokesman for Blackwell denied that the GOP officeholder was trying to prevent people from voting and said county boards should accept voter registration forms on paper of any weight as long as they are otherwise valid.

“WeÕre not the paper police. WeÕre not going to go to county election boards and review voter registration forms,” said Blackwell spokesman Carlo LoParo. “We want them to process the forms.”

But LoParo disputed suggestions that Blackwell was reversing his Sept. 7 directive, which states that “any Ohio form not printed on this minimum paperweight is considered to be an application for a registration form. Your board should mail this appropriate form to the person listed on the application.”

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Denny White said, “This is an antiquated rule and an unnecessary barrier to voter-registration efforts going on in Ohio.”

The requirement, LoParo said, is meant to prevent lightweight registration forms from being shredded by postal equipment. Ohio election law requires that the forms be a permanent record, and the weight requirement was set about a decade ago when Gov. Bob Taft was secretary of state.

LoParo said Blackwell wants election officials to process the lightweight registration forms and send the applicants a form on heavier-stock paper to return for a permanent record.

That was news to election officials in two counties, who said they have not been processing forms on underweight papers, per BlackwellÕs directive.

In Pickaway County, Elections Director Johnda Perkins said her office already has sent letters and new forms to dozens of voters who registered on lightweight paper, asking them to return the heavier-weight forms.

Voters whose forms were disqualified have quickly responded by re-registering, she said.

In Madison County, Elections Director Gloria Herrel said her office has been sending a letter with an appropriate-weight registration card to would-be voters as their lightweight forms arrive. She could not estimate the number involved.

Matthew Damschroder, director of the Franklin County Board of Elections, said, “WeÕve received tens of thousands of forms on paper less than 80-pound weight and weÕre accepting them.

“Frankly, in a year like this, with this kind of volume, we donÕt have time to send them a new form.”

In Delaware County, elections officials have been taping any lightweight forms they receive to paper of the correct weight.

“We donÕt want any disenfranchised people out there,” Elections Director Janet Brenneman said. “They sent in the cards in good faith.”

The paper-weight debate wasnÕt the only Blackwell directive coming under fire.

Ohio Democrats filed a federal lawsuit this week challenging state guidelines that would deny provisional ballots for people who show up at the wrong polling place.

Blackwell directed election officials to issue provisional ballots only to voters who are in the correct polling location. Democrats say federal law gives voters the right to obtain a provisional ballot and have it counted if they mistakenly go to the wrong precinct.

The controversy comes during the final push to sign up new voters before MondayÕs deadline as well as the start of absentee voting yesterday.

Already, 25,000 absentee ballots are on their way out the door in Franklin County, compared with 6,500 the first day in 2000.

County elections workers are staffing the office 24 hours a day, six days a week, to keep up with registration forms. The 90,000 new voters now make up more than 10 percent of the electorate in a county that Democrat Al Gore won by only 5,000 votes in 2000.

The voter-registration deadline is Monday.

“In an election year like this where clearly the race for president is going to be close and in a county where things have tended to be closer and closer, adding 90,000 to the rolls changes the dynamic in all kinds of races,” Damschroder said.

The expectation of a close election also is causing enormous scrutiny of seemingly insignificant rules such as paper weight, said Doug Chapin, director of electionline.org, a nonpartisan clearinghouse for election news created in the wake of the 2000 presidential race.

“That weÕre having discussion about 20-pound paper and 80-pound card stock may seem absurd, but anything that could potentially affect a thousand voters is something that people need to pay attention to,” he said. “ItÕs front-page news.”

Dispatch reporters Kelly Lecker and Randy Ludlow contributed to this story.



Tue, 28 Sep 2004

Bureaucrats for Disenfranchisement

The blogosphere is up in arms about Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell’s recent decision to require Ohio Boards of Election to reject voter registration forms that aren’t printed on 80 lb card stock.

This article in the Dayton Daily News describes the issue more fully. (Registration is annoying and required, and “email a link” is broken, so I’m in-lining it here:)

Blackwell rulings rile voting advocates
Boards of elections told to strictly follow two provisions
By Jim Bebbington and Laura Bischoff
Dayton Daily News (24 Sept 2004)

DAYTON Voters-rights advocates are criticizing two recent decisions by Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell that they say will unfairly limit some people’s ability to vote Nov. 2.

Blackwell’s office has told county boards of elections to follow strictly two provisions in Ohio election law:

  • One requires Ohio voter registration cards be printed on thick, 80-pound stock paper.
  • The other ordered boards to strictly interpret the rules regarding provisional ballots, the ones cast by voters who move before the election but are still registered in Ohio.

The paper-stock issue is frustrating Montgomery County Board of Elections officials, who have a backlog of registrations to complete. If they get an Ohio voter registration card on paper thinner than required, they are mailing a new card out to the voter. But if they still have the backlog by the registration deadline, Oct. 4, voters will not have another chance to get their correct paperwork in, said Steve Harsman, deputy director of the Montgomery County board.

“There is just no reason to use 80-pound paper,” Harsman said.

In Montgomery County there is a backlog of around 4,000 registrations, Harsman said. A few hundred could be affected by this provision, he said.

Cuyahoga County board of elections officials are ignoring the edict because they have already had an avalanche of new registrations submitted on forms printed on newsprint in The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer.

“We don’t have a micrometer at each desk to check the weight of the paper,” said Michael Vu, director of the Cuyahoga County Board.

Blackwell’s office has given the Cuyahoga board a special dispensation to accept the newsprint registration forms. The requirement is because the forms are designed to be mailed like post-cards and must be thick enough to survive mechanical sorters at the U.S. Post Office, according to Blackwell’s spokesman Carlo LoParo.

“Our directive stands and it is specifically in place to protect new registrants to make sure the forms are not destroyed,” LoParo said.

Confusing the matter further is a national registration form available off the Internet at the federal Elections Assistance Agency. That form must be accepted by Ohio boards regardless of what it is printed on, Blackwell has said.

The heavy-weight paper was a requirement when the cards were kept for years, were used to keep track of when a person voted, and were the main way to check signatures to combat voter fraud and verify petitions. But many boards, including both Montgomery and Cuyahoga, scan the signatures into a computer database and no longer record voting history on the cards.

The League of Women Voters of Ohio on Thursday called on Blackwell to clarify his position. League national president Kay Maxwell said she knows of no other states that are requiring the 80-pound paper stock for voter registration cards. “This is the first I’ve heard of it,” she said on Thursday in Columbus.

The other directive forbids poll workers from giving a provisional ballot unless the person can prove they live in that precinct. Peg Rosenfield, spokeswoman for the league, said she interprets federal to be less restrictive. Rosenfield says people who show up at the wrong precinct should be given a ballot and allowed to vote on the non-local races.

Contact Jim Bebbington at 225-2262.

I called Mr. Blackwell’s office this morning (614-466-3910) since all of the registration forms I have ever handed out have been downloaded off of Lorain County Board of Elections web site and printed off my laser printer onto regular (20 lb) paper. I asked the person who picked up the phone if these registrations would be valid. She was unwilling to make a statement about the policy but asked if I would “like to be called back with the message”. She took my name and phone number. No call back yet. I also tried calling the Lorain County BoE (440-326-5900, 440-326-5901) for clarification but I got dumped to voice mail. I will try calling them again.

The 80 lb card stock requirement is from the days when the cards themselves were the archival record. Given how registration is processed today, it is hard to view Mr. Blackwell’s sudden enforcement of this rule in a charitable light. I’m also perturbed by the fact that our Board of Election’s voter registration web page no longer seems to have a .pdf file of the voter registration form available; I’m really pretty sure that’s where I downloaded the pdf I have.

It’s difficult not to view this as a back-handed effort to roll back some of the gains that Democrats have made in registering new voters in Ohio this year as described in this New York Times story.

Having Boards of Election mail out new, blank 80 lb forms to people who sent in regular paper forms under the reasoning that regular paper forms can be damaged in the mail—even though the forms in question have already safely traversed the mail, using a high-tech device known as an “envelope”—makes no sense whatsoever. 80 lb forms are no longer kept by the Boards. So why is Mr. Blackwell doing this if not to disenfranchise new voters?

Atrios has posted an excerpt from Section 1971 of the Federal Voting Rights Act . Mr. Blackwell’s enforcement of the Ohio law certainly appears to contradict the Federal law.