As Hamilton County elections officials continue to be stuck in legal limbo following conflicting state and federal directives over a local dispute, an area legislator is introducing a bill that could resolve the matter.
State Rep. Alicia Reece (D-Bond Hill) announced plans this week to introduce legislation that would require provisional ballots be counted if they are cast in the correct polling location but in the wrong precinct. Reece, a former Cincinnati vice mayor, says the bill is a response to the dispute swirling around the November election to fill a judgeship on the Hamilton County Juvenile Court.
The dispute stems from the race between Democrat Tracie Hunter and Republican John Williams. After provisional ballots were tallied, Hunter trailed Williams by 23 votes, but Hunter filed a lawsuit that alleges some people were told to vote in the wrong precinct by poll workers. Hunter's campaign alleges that 286 people went to the right location to vote, but were directed to the wrong table.
Responding to Hunter's lawsuit, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Dlott -- a Democratic appointee -- ordered the Hamilton County Board of Elections to count more than 150 of the disputed ballots. But Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted -- a Republican -- and the GOP-dominated Ohio Supreme Court told the board to disregard the ballots. That's left local officials confused whether this is an issue that should be decided by state or federal authorities.
"I want to make sure that every constituent in my district is able to exercise their right to vote," Reece said in a prepared statement. "Some of my constituents cast their ballot at the right polling location but in the wrong precinct due to the error of a poll worker. They showed up to the right building, but they were misdirected.
"We should be fighting to make sure every person is able to exercise their vote, and not fighting to prevent him or her for exercising it," Reece added.
Joining Reece as co-sponsors on the bill are Tracy Maxwell Heard (D-Columbus), Michael Stinziano (D-Columbus) and Kathleen Clyde (D-Kent).
Stinziano believes the rules should be made clear and uniform statewide, rather than be left open to interpretation by each of Ohio's 88 county boards of elections.
“As director of the Franklin County Board of Elections, my staff and I worked in a bipartisan way to protect voters from these kinds of mistakes,” Stinziano said. “We need to make these protections uniform statewide.”
It remains to be seen if the bill can gain support in the State Legislature, where Republicans are in the majority.