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Monday, November 22, 2010

Dem Judge Candidate Tracie Hunter Sues Board of Elections: Civil-Rights Lawsuit Cites Hamilton County Pollworker Error

Voters Sent To Wrong Precincts?
CINCINNATI (TDB) -- Tracie Hunter is seeking a federal injunction that would stop the Hamilton County Board of Elections from certifying results that would award a juvenile court judgeship to Republican John Williams.  Hunter is down 23 votes out of more than 280,000 cast.  She contends some voters -- who got in the wrong line at voting stations that house multiple precincts -- were improperly given provisional ballots on Nov. 2.  Hunter contends poll workers should have directed voters to the proper line.  The result of the poll worker instructions: The provisional ballots were disqualified because voter voted in the wrong precinct.  Hunter's lawsuit says voters should not be punished -- lose their right to vote -- because of flawed instructions from a county employee.  Election officials contend orders issued in 2004 by former Secretary of State Ken Blackwell forbid poll workers from directing voters to their proper precinct.  Blackwell's directive was issued in the run-up to the Bush v. Kerry presidential contest, and was seen by critics as an effort to sow confusion in urban counties which often have multiple precincts under one roof.   

Hunter's legal challenge has a broader motive, of course.  If she prevails, and the disqualified provisionals are added to the pool of ballots, she likely would defeat Williams for the Juvenile Court judgeship.  It would be a major pick up for the local Hamilton County Democratic Party.  Hunter holds a lead in the provisionals that have been tossed aside.  The case focuses on the issue of voters who went to the right place but got into the wrong line on Election Day -- what's been described as right church, wrong pew.  Here's some of Hunter's lawsuit, which was filed today by lawyer Jennifer Branch, whose Cincinnati law firm specializes in civil rights cases:

"A single polling place is often the site for voting for numerous precincts.  A citizen must not only locate the right polling place but also the right table within the polling place in order to vote in the correct precinct.  Poll workers employed by the Defendant Board of Elections have a duty to direct the voter to the correct table so the voter can vote in the correct precinct.  On November 2, 2010 some poll workers in Hamilton County did not direct the voter to the correct precinct table and instead simply handed the voter a provisional ballot.  A provisional ballot cast in the wrong precinct due to such poll worker error will not be counted by the Defendant board even though the voter did everything the Defendant's employees asked of the voter.  Plaintiff Hunter challenges this decision as a denial of due process and equal protection.

"This action seeks to maintain the status quo and enjoin the certification of the vote for Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge until the Court can determine the rights of provisional voters whose ballots have been rejected by Defendants even though the reason for the rejection may be due solely to poll worker error.  Principles of due process and Equal Protection require that demonstrated poll worker error should not deny to citizens their right to have their vote counted.

"The 23-vote gap in this case makes the Plaintiff eligible for an automatic recount.  But a recount reviews only the votes determined eligible before the official count is certified.  Thus a recount will not address the problem in this case:  The failure to count the ballots of voters who voted in the wrong precinct due solely to poll worker error."

This dispute raises another interesting issue.  The site where The Daily Bellwether votes contains two precincts, A & B, in the same room.  Some people accidentally went to the wrong table to sign in on Election Day, or weren't sure which table they should go to in order to pick up a ballot.  Frankly, you had to be really focused to realize Precinct A was on the right side of the room's entrance and Precinct B was on the left.  Some people just got into the shortest line.  The Bellwether saw workers tell people to go across the room to get to the correct precinct.  It was very informal -- like, you go to that line not this one.  Or, vote over there.  Sometimes voters who were standing in line and poll workers together gave directions to help end the confusion.  In other words, citizens were sent to the proper place to vote.  That seems to indicate that different standards were in force across the county -- in some precincts people got provisionals; in some they were directed to the correct voting locations.

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