Activity in Ohio
General Election - November 2, 2004
Details of the
process in Ohio were being debated just days before November 2 and
even on November 2 itself. An underlying source of controversy
was the fact that Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, who oversaw
the election, also happened to be a co-chair of Bush's re-election
campaign. Regardless of the fairness and soundness of his
decisions this created at least the perception of a problem.
Among the specific issues litigated and debated before the election
were provisional ballots, challengers in polling places, voting
systems, and voting rights of ex-felons. Professor Edward B.
Foley, Director of
Law @ Moritz, a project of the
Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University, observes that it is
fortunate that such issues were hashed out before the election rather
Ohio State University Moritz College of Law - Election Law @
University of Pittsburgh School of Law - Jurist: Ohio.
In October 2002 the ACLU
of Ohio sued the state in the U.S.
District Court for the Northern District of Ohio charging that the
punch card systems in use in much of the state violate voters' rights
and seeking to have them removed before the November election.
case went to trial in July 2004 but was then put on hold until
On August 3, 2004 the Prison Reform Advocacy Center
issued a report "THE
DISENFRANCHISEMENT OF THE RE-ENFRANCHISED:
Confusion Over Felon Voter Eligibility in Ohio
Ex-Offender Voters From the Polls."
On August 17 PRAC filed a class action suit on behalf of C.U.R.E.-Ohio
and The Racial Fairness Project against Secretary of State Kenneth
Blackwell and 21 county boards of elections. On September 13 Ohio
Department of Rehabilitation and Correction agreed to notify parolees
of their voting rights.
Citizens' Alliance for Secure Elections (C.A.S.E.) issued warnings about
the "dangerous shortcomings" of electronic voting machines and about
"serious failings in Ohio's election process which could disenfranchise
massive numbers of Ohioans."
Ohio voter Aaron Greenspan (web page)
pointed out a confusing ballot
design in Cuyahoga
County, Ohio's largest county.
The county still uses
the punch card system; Greenspan showed in his case, as an absentee
voter, that the numbers on the ballot
and numbers on the punch card
do not line up.
Blackwell, a Republican who is co-chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign in
Ohio, came under criticism for several of his decisions about
(A). On Sept. 7, 2004 Blackwell issued a directive requiring that voter registration cards be
printed on 80 pound stock
Democratic-leaning 527 group America Coming Together
charged on Sept. 28 that Blackwell was
"trying to bar thousands of newly registered voters from the
Blackwell relented on this point.
Sept. 27, 2004 the Sandusky County Democratic Party, the Ohio
Democratic Party and several labor organizations filed suit against
Blackwell in U.S. District Court in
Toledo challenging his directive to county boards of elections
mandating that pollworkers only issue provisional ballots to voters who
are residents of the particular precinct.
"Ohio Secretary of State Directive 2004-33 (“Directive 2004-33”)
eviscerates the federal provisional-voting rights guaranteed by HAVA,"
the suit stated. The Ohio League of Women Voters and other
plaintiffs filed a similar suit on Oct. 4. On Oct. 14 the judge
ordered Blackwell to issue
a new directive; Blackwell appealed, and on Oct. 26 the U.S. Court of
Appeals for the Sixth Circuit supported his position. (Sandusky
Democratic Party v. Blackwell) This decision did not
entirely settle the questions related to provisional ballots, however,
and several lawsuits concerning provisional ballots were filed on
(C). Blackwell on Oct. 20 issued a directive calling for a strict
interpretation of the statute which would have excluded reporters
and photographers from polling places.
"No person, not an election official, employee, witness, challenger, or
police officer, shall be allowed to enter the polling place during the
election, except for the purpose of voting." [Ohio Revised Code
3501.35] On Nov. 2 the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned
lower court decision, finding that Blackwell "applied the statute
overly broadly in such a way that the statute would be violative of the
First Amendment." (Beacon Journal v. Blackwell)
The large number of new
registrants prompted the Ohio Republican Party to take steps to guard against
Republican Party). On Oct. 22 the party formally challenged about 35,000 voter
65 counties (the number of those being challenged was subsequently
reduced to about 23,000). This went to the courts, and
on Nov. 1 U.S. District Judge Dickinson Debevoise of New Jersey issued
an order barring Republicans from using the list for Election Day
challenges. (Democratic National Committee v. Republican
Historically, in Ohio on Election Day, the parties have been allowed to
challengers in polling places; these people can raise questions about
an individual's eligibility to
voter. In one case Marian Spencer, an African American from the
Avondale section of Cincinnati, charged the practice was
discriminatory. At one point Blackwell indicated he would seek to
exclude all challengers for
this election (statement).
On Nov. 1 U.S. District Judge Susan J. Dlott issued an order
preventing the parties from placing challengers in polling places, but
on Nov. 2, in a 2-1 decision, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled
challengers would be permitted. (Spencer v. Blackwell)
Election Day itself long lines became an issue. Late on Tuesday
afternoon the Ohio Democratic Party filed suit against Blackwell and
the Franklin and Knox County Boards of Elections in U.S. District
Court. "Voting in Franklin and Knox Counties is grinding to a
halt," the suit stated. "Because of a failure to supply an
adequate number of voting machines, thousands of Ohio voters may be
disenfranchised if this Court does not take immediate action..." it
continued, terming the situation "dire." Observers later
suggested that there was a pattern and that voting machines were
distributed more generously to precincts favoring Bush.
Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action.