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Professor Dan Tokaji
Election reform, the Voting Rights Act, the Help America Vote Act, and related topics -- with special attention to the voting rights of people of color, non-English proficient citizens, and people with disabilities

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Equal Vote
Monday, December 13
 
Move to Delay Electoral College in Ohio
Today's the day that the Electoral College meets in each of the state capitals. Just hours before, some congressional Democrats and other Democratic activists asked state officials to delay the Electoral College vote in Columbus, Ohio until the recount is completed. The A.P. has this report.

President Bush won by about 119,000 votes, as of the date that Ohio's results were certified a few days ago. But there are recount requests and a contest of the election still pending. The Green and Libertarian parties' candidates requested recounts in each of the 88 Ohio counties, which are to start this week. A spokesman for Ohio Gov. Bob Taft says that the state won't postpone the Electoral College vote or make it provisional, as House Dems areq requesting. Oh well.

In related news, the Columbus Dispatch reported yesterday that heavily Republican precincts in Franklin County saw an increase in voting machines, while heavily Democratic ones lost voting machines. There were reports of multi-hour lines in many Franklin County precincts on election day, particularly those in or near central Columbus. While the full text of the story doesn't appear to be available on line, the Dispatch report finds that:
- Predominantly Democratic Franklin County precincts -- those where Democrat Al Gore got at least 70 percent of the vote in 2000 -- had 17 fewer machines used in 2004. At the same time, the strongest GOP precincts -- where George W. Bush got at least 70 percent of the vote four years ago -- received eight more machines.

- Based on the information available when officials placed machines, the Democratic precincts had 20 percent more "active" voters per machine used than the Republican areas. The GOP precincts had an 18 percent higher turnout in 2000, but the Columbus ballot this year was much longer than in the suburbs because of bond issues -- which officials say was a major reason for long lines.

- The county average for active voters per machine was 229 per precinct, with a range from 388 in Columbus Precinct 73-J to 84 in Truro Township A. But nearly three-fourths of the Democratic precincts had a higher-than-average voter-permachine number, compared with 30 percent of the GOP precincts.

- Franklin County officials tried to put 29 additional machines into service on Election Day -- all in the Democratic and minority precincts -- but 17 weren't used because they were delivered after the polls closed or because poll workers told those delivering the machines that they weren't needed, officials said. The county didn't use 22 other machines.
My take: The recount and contest in Ohio won't change the outcome, and doesn't provide a good reason for delaying the Electoral College vote . . . this year. But in a closer election, the glaring flaw in Ohio's election procedures, which allows insufficient time for the recount and contest to be completed before the Electoral College meets, could spell disaster.

As far as this year's election goes, I've still not seen any evidence yet that would support the claim that Kerry really won -- or would have won if not for "irregularities." But the latest findings in the Dispatch report are troubling. Franklin County election officials vigorously deny any partisan gamesmanship in the distribution of machines. And that's probably true, given that the county boards of election have equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans. But even if there wasn't an intentional maldistribution of machines, the long lines that many Columbus-area voters faced were a disgrace. There's no telling exactly how many people were discouraged from voting as a result of those lines, and it would be inexcusable if election officials failed to fix this problem before the next presidential elections.

This isn't rocket science folks. We need new voting machines, and we need them now (or at least by 2006).

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Moritz College of Law The Ohio State University