2008 Ohio Election Protection Report
Columbus Institute for Contemporary Journalism
The Green Party of Ohio
Presented December 2, 2008 at the Ohio Secretary of State Elections Summit
The November Presidential election was a historic landslide victory for Barack Obama. A closer election would have magnified the many troubling aspects of our election systems, despite the improvements made by Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner.
The Ohio Green Party, Election Integrity, and the Columbus Institute for Contemporary Journalism deployed a team of observers, exit pollsters, and Video the Vote volunteers throughout Ohio counties on Election Day. Observers monitored the opening of precincts, activities throughout the day, and the closing of polls. Other observers spent election night watching the activities at county Board of Elections (BOE) offices. Exit pollsters surveyed voters leaving the polls and videographers were on hand to videotape the day’s happenings.
The two top issues reported by observers this year were the outrageous number of provisional ballots cast and the obvious lack of good poll worker training. The following is a bullet-pointed summary of the most important observations from our group.
Pre-Election Day Issues
The Republican Party attempted to disenfranchise some 600,000 long-time voters by purging them from Ohio voting rolls. The reasons were not defined, but appear to be:
1) Caging: when a voter is sent a letter that is either not responded to or is returned, resulting in the voter’s name removed from the voting rolls
2) Voting Inactivity: categorizing the voters as “inactive” or having not voted in the last two federal election cycles and removing the voter’s name from the voting rolls
Additionally, 200,000 newly registered voters (since January 1, 2008) were targeted by the Republican Party for purging based on “discrepancies” between their names on the voter registration forms and their names in Social Security and Bureau of Motor Vehicle databases.
Both purge attempts were opposed by Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner’s office. In the first instance, Brunner issued a directive that mandated that long-time voters were entitled to notification and a hearing prior to purging. In the second instance, the new voters were protected through court action initiated by the Ohio Secretary of State’s (SoS) office.
Multiple absentee ballot mailings
There were numerous reports of unsolicited requests for and absentee ballots arriving in the mail to voters. There apparently was the targeting of women, particularly minority women, with mailings based on maiden names or prior married names that were no longer valid. This caused confusion for some voters over which name they were registered under, or whether they would be challenged on Election Day.
Harassment of voters
Greene County Sheriff Gene Fischer opened up a criminal investigation focused primarily on newly registered voters and college students alleging that they were illegally registered. Public exposure of his actions in the media of the investigations seems to have thwarted the activity.
In Miami County, an observer reported that Steve Quillen, Director of Miami County Board of Elections, told voters that if they moved within the last six months they had to vote provisionally.
Early Voting - harassment of voters
Early voters in Franklin County reported that their license plates were being photographed and they were being photographed and videotaped at the Veterans Memorial site. The photographers identified themselves as affiliated with the Republican Party. Early voting observers reported that individuals affiliated with the Republican Party were in frequent contact with Franklin County Deputy Director Matt Damschroder at the early voting site. The effort, according to observers, appeared to be intended to challenge first time voters who registered and voted during the window that voters could register and vote on the same day – September 30 through October 6, 2008.
Early Voting – long lines
The longest lines observed by the Election Protection project were the early voting lines just prior to Election Day. Early voters waited up to five hours to vote.
Election Day Issues
Over 181,000 provisional votes were cast on Election Day 2008, which is a significant increase from the 140,000 or so in 2004. The provisional ballots were concentrated in poor, minority, urban wards. They appear not to be correlated to socio-economic status, but to race. Our observers noted up to 20% provisional ballots cast in some inner city precincts. Voters were sometimes forced to vote provisionally due to improper interpretation of voter ID rules. Some Franklin County voters were forced to vote provisionally due to “data entry” errors, which resulted in voters marked in the poll book as a “code 3” which may have been based on returned mail. These angry voters were allowed to vote a regular ballot if they first went home to get a utility bill or other alternate ID proving their residency. Since provisional ballots are often uncounted, excessive provisional voting leads to voter suppression.
Observers reported that provisional ballots were supposed to be put into a particular envelope, for example, a yellow envelope for Franklin County provisionals. Voters and observers noted that poll workers did not always know which envelope to put the provisional ballots in, mixed up the envelopes for the paper and provisional ballots, or noticed that the provisional ballots were not put in envelopes at all. The ballot was too large for the envelope and had to be folded, potentially causing a problem with it being read properly in an optiscan machines.
Codes and database errors
Observers noted symbols on the poll books that resulted in some voters being forced to vote provisionally. Pollworkers were unable to explain what the codes meant and why the voters had to vote provisionally. Some referred to “code 3” and “code 2” but were not sure what they meant. The Election Protection Project identified Code 3 as voters whose address-voter verification cards were returned in the mail as “undeliverable.” According to the Columbus Dispatch, 1,137 were incorrectly “flagged” as code 3 voters.
Observers noted that many poll workers were not aware that observers were legally allowed inside the polling site and were not aware of the rules that govern the observers. Some observers asked questions and were refused answers. A few poll workers told the observers they must stay outside the polling site. Some observers and exit pollsters had to produce the legal paperwork and Ohio SoS office directives to show the poll workers to be able to do their observing.
Voters and observers reported that some poll workers did not know the proper ID requirements or the policies governing who must vote provisionally. Observers also noted that many poll workers did not follow the guidelines to offer paper ballots to voters and some did not know the difference between a provisional and a paper ballot. Voters were not reminded to check the voting results on the voting machines before completing their voting.
Hamilton County observer Jo Anne Karasek reported that the presiding judge left one of the polling sites in the middle of the day, not to return.
Lack of security
Observer Katie Barns reported that in Delaware County, security for the memory cards was completely inadequate. The “security” tape over the memory card is a piece of plastic tape that could easily be removed and reapplied, with no way to tell if it had been disturbed, so a memory card could be switched without detection.
In Summit County, observer Terry Grimm reported that the process was delayed 35 minutes while the materials from the city of Barberton were sorted and organized, including a lack of security seals and missing supply bags.
In Portage County, the observer noted that at least 9 of 50 observed precincts returned materials that lacked security seals.
Observers reported that youth organizations like the Boy Scouts were once again involved in the delivery of election materials raising chain of custody questions regarding the security of ballots. One observer reported that a 13-year-old girl, part of Youth at the Booth, was signing in voters at one polling location.
Harassment by pollworkers
Exit pollsters at the Franklin County polling site 25G were harassed by the presiding judge Brenda Gentry, who twice called the police on exit pollsters representing the Edison-Mitofsky and Warren polls. The exit pollsters carried with them SoS directive 2008-87, but the presiding judge simply ignored the directive. Also, at Jones Middle School in Upper Arlington, the School Board Business Director attempted to ban all exit pollsters from school property, even property that extended beyond 100 feet from the polling site.
Several times during the day, observers were forced to call the SoS’s office and the Franklin County BOE office to ask for assistance to help with poll worker harassment. In Hamilton County, observer Jane Schiff was met with serious resistance and was threatened with arrest. In Belmont County, John Morgan was prevented from seeing where electronic votes were tallied. In Montgomery county, observer Barbara was denied reasonable access, and was unable to closely observe the “helter skelter” activity where high school students were returning bags of materials from the precincts.
A few BOE observers noted a “frosty” or unpleasant attitude by the BOE workers toward them when they attempted to observe the end of election night activities. On the other hand, in Warren County, the site of the suspicious 2004 homeland security lockdown, observer Marilyn Welker found the staff to be very accommodating. Similarly, Adele Eisner found the staff receptive in Cuyahoga County. Lauren Anderson was well received in Licking County.
In Union County, there were machine problems initially and were late getting started, and at the end of the day, they took tapes out of the machines before closing them out properly with the downloading process. So, when they did download the data, the machine printed some more, and they ended up taping this last printing to the paper that had already been removed. One precinct did not reconcile correctly but the presiding judge for that precinct had already gone home.
Technical problems occurred in several counties. In Union County, observer Mark Loux reports that “at 9:45, when the computer showed a message stating that it already had data for a precinct from which they were downloading. They had apparently loaded in early voting data, and this messed things up – the software did not know how to handle it. So, they cleared out all of the data (I think) and started loading precincts again. They were evidently loading from both flash cards and PBE modules, and things stopped again at 10:50, when they received the same message – that they were trying to download data for a precinct that had already been updated. It took a full hour to remedy this, with the SoS representative on the phone most of the time. They eventually concluded that the problem was that they were downloading from both flash card and PBE’s, rather than downloading from all of the flash cards first, and then from all of the PBE’s. So, at 11:50 they cleared data again, loaded data from flash cards, and then from PBE’s, and then added absentee data. This apparently worked.”
In Portage County, observer Kevin Egler noted that the optical scan machine scanned 2800 ballots, but the memory card was corrupted, forcing BOE personnel to rescan these ballots, delaying the process 30 minutes and demoralizing the staff.
The Election Protection project received a call from a Democratic poll observer who reported that in Lucas County’s 20th ward, only four of the eight voting machines recorded any votes for president, though the machines recorded votes for other races.
A voter in Licking County reported that his regular paper ballot was never put in an envelope, but tossed in a big bag. A Youngstown voter reported that the paper ballot she requested contained no choice for president. In Trumbull County, observer Werner Lange reported that in precinct 3A, all the votes cast between 6:30 and 8:15am were invalid because the poll workers failed to make the voters sign the poll book.
1) More and larger locations for early voting, especially in urban areas
2) Better poll worker training, specifically in regards to election directives, provisional ballots and ID requirements. Assign one poll worker at each precinct to be an expert on provisional ballots
3) Automatically register all Ohio citizens at age 18 to vote
4) Remove private vendors from election process, especially their involvement with computerized voting rolls
5) Uniform statewide envelope standards for paper and provisional ballots, large enough to accommodate size of ballot without folding
6) Placement of videocameras at sign-in desk to spot voter fraud, monitor poll worker activity and track the turnout
7) Eliminate computerized voting machines
8) Eliminate voter purges, except for death notice or notice from voter that they no longer reside in the state