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Board of Elections heads off most election snafus


Board of Elections heads off most election snafus
Lila Hanft, Cleveland Jewish News, 03/07/08

Cuyahoga County Board of Elections (CCBOE) director Jane Platten couldn’t command the weather, but she had nearly every other aspect of the March 4 primary election well in hand, judging from activity at the CCBOE’s warehouse on E. 40th St.

The warehouse was the hub of activity on primary day Tuesday because CCBOE offices were too small to accommodate the 16 ES&S M650 optical scanners required to count the paper ballots.

Before the primary, the warehouse was cleared out and reconfigured to ensure the security of the ballots and equipment and to optimize the workflow. Waist-high barriers separated poll workers from areas assigned to media and official election observers.

A ceiling-high chain-link fence, as well as security officers, protected the area where absentee ballots scanned ahead of time and the servers used to tabulate votes were stored. To protect the chain-of-custody for ballots and equipment, access to the tabulation area was restricted. Every person, regardless of rank, signed in when he or she entered and signed out on leaving.

Dennis Anderson, CCBOE community outreach specialist, confirmed that “an extensive amount of planning, from ballots to layout to the flow of operations,” preceded the primary. “All the checks and balances are in place, and work is proceeding in lockstep.”

Many people, including Platten, were amazed by how smoothly voting went. All but one polling place opened on time, “a huge benchmark for us.” Since the CCBOE was given only 62 days to implement the new paper balloting system, things “are going better than I thought,” Platten said.

With two possible exceptions, problems at polling places were minor. There were reports of pollworkers directing voters to fold their ballots before putting them into the ballot box and of voters who did not realize they had to turn the ballot over. There was also confusion about a tab on ballots marked “Do not remove.” Some voters said they were instructed by poll workers to remove the tag and feared it would invalidate their ballots. Platten announced mid-morning that removal of the tab would not invalidate ballots and that “every vote will count.”

In an effort to reduce the amount of scanning that had to be done after the polls closed, the CCBOE instituted midday pickup of ballots. Ballots from 63 precincts began arriving at the warehouse around 2:30. At midday, the Ohio Republican party issued a press release alleging that in one Cuyahoga County polling place, ballots were being picked up, transported and delivered exclusively by Democrats. Platten said they were looking into the allegations, but confirmed that Republicans were present at the polling place in question.

The biggest problem came at the end of the day: A reported shortage of Democratic ballots at some Cleveland locations spurred Barack Obama’s campaign to file a federal lawsuit asking for a voting extension. U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver ordered 21 precincts in 14 locations to stay open until 9 p.m. because he believed they ran out of paper ballots. But because the order arrived after the polls had already closed, election officials were only able to reopen 10 polling stations, according to Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner. In the extended 90-minute period, only five additional votes were cast, Brunner said.

At press time Wednesday, both Brunner and Platten said that while ballots supplies ran low at some precincts, they were continually replenished. They said they had no evidence that any precincts ran out of ballots.

The 90-minute extension and increasingly icy road conditions delayed the delivery of some ballots until after 1 a.m. But by 5:30 Wednesday morning, the scanning and tabulation was done, blogger John Horton reported.

Overall, observers say the count went smoothly -- especially compared with recent elections in the county. “We put respect back into the election process in Cuyahoga County today,” said Platten.

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