Each election year, Ohio residents cast thousands of ballots that are not counted. Despite efforts to simplify the state’s voting to avoid widespread discarding of ballots, it could happen again in November’s presidential race. The Enquirer, during a weeks-long examination of the state’s electoral procedures, found that voting – America’s most precious right and the foundation for all others – is a fragile civic exercise for many Ohioans. A confusing maze of state laws, administrative directives and court rulings on voting procedures, errors – by voters and poll workers alike – and other factors cause large numbers of ballots to end up in the electoral trash can every year, particularly in urban counties.
The problems call into question both whether every Ohioan’s vote will be counted Nov. 6 and whether the state, always pivotal in close presidential races, can assure the nation a timely, accurate and lawsuit-free count. “If the Wednesday headlines the day after the election say, ‘All eyes are on Ohio,’ it probably won’t be a good thing,” said Ed Foley, an Ohio State University law professor and a nationally respected expert on election laws.
In Hamilton County alone, hundreds of votes are routinely disqualified in major statewide elections because they are cast in the wrong precinct, often only feet from the correct location. Hundreds more votes have been tossed out for another relatively minor miscue: voters’ failure to seal an inner envelope containing their absentee ballot. “Every vote is a voice,” said new Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter, who owes her election to a federal court ordering local officials to count some contested 2010 ballots. “People fought, bled and died for the right not only to vote but to have that vote counted.”
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