Provisional Ballots, Computer Glitches, Poll Worker and Voter Errors All Part of Election Day Headaches, Delays

The Franklin County Board of Elections today is correcting some ballot counts and processing more than 27,000 provisional ballots in a bid to put the wraps on Election 2008. But a Congressional race hangs in the balance.

Franklin County board of elections director Michael Stinziano says worker error is responsible for some electronic ballots being counted twice. Stinziano says a staff member reinserted electronic memory cards that had already been counted.

“It was simply human error that on election night when we’re processing and uploading from Election Day that one of the staff members put in a couple more than they should have,” Stinziano says.

At issue are hundreds of votes, all in the 15th Congressional district, where Republican Steve Stivers holds a narrow lead over Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy. In one precinct which has a thousand registered voters more than 1100 votes were counted.

After the electronic votes are squared up, the county will complete processing of the 27,000 provisional ballots cast during the election – which accounts for about 5 percent of all votes cast. Moritz College of Law elections expert Ned Foley call the provisional ballot an insurance policy.

If a voter goes to the polling place and there’s a question about the voter’s eligibility, the voter’s not turned away completely without the opportunity to cast a ballot and therefore express the voter’s preferences as to who should win. But what makes it provisional is that it’s not automatically counted. It is going to be evaluated to be decided whether it can count or cannot count,” Says Foley.

But a person who votes provisionally also runs the risk of being disenfranchised.

“If you go to a polling place and it turns out it’s the wrong polling place they will give you a provisional ballot. But automatically it won’t count because Ohio has a law that says you have to be at the correct polling place.”

It’s the responsibility of the poll worker to send the voter to the correct location Foley says. But once again, human error might intervene.

The poll worker is supposed to tell the voter, ‘Don’t vote here, sorry you had to wait in line but you need to go to this other location for your ballot to count.’ We don’t know how often that conversation occurs properly or whether it’s sometimes failed to be mentioned.

On Tuesday there were scattered complaints from people who said they were required to vote provisionally when they should have been allowed to use a regular ballot. Hundreds of people had to vote provisionally because the board of elections had flagged their names in error on voting rolls.

But sometimes it’s the voter’s fault – a voter might have changed their address but failed to notify the board of elections. And as Ned Foley points out there are the demands placed on poll workers on election day:

“The state law actually has 14 different specified reasons that a voter might have to vote provisionally,” Foley says. “And of course it’s very hard for the poll workers to keep track of all of them on Election Day when there are long lines and people wanting to vote and so forth.

“Earlier in the week, the secretary of state’s office voiced concern that so many Franklin County voters had to cast provisional ballots. County officials released the 27,000 vote figure Thursday, saying that a five percent provisional ballot rate was not excessive. But Ned Foley says it’s a good idea to keep an eye on provisional balloting.

“If a jurisdiction has an excessively high rate at which provisional ballots are cast, then even though they all get counted down the road, it’s not necessarily a success story. Why is it that all these people were given provisional ballots rather than regular ballots? Yes we’re glad that it gets counted in the end, but was it really necessary to give them a provisional ballot in the first place?”

Not all provisional ballots are counted. Foley says that on average about 20 percent are disqualified.

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