A state lawmaker from Cincinnati is asking U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to send federal election monitors here to ensure all provisional ballots cast in the November election are counted.
State Rep. Alicia Reece (D-Bond Hill) sent the letter this week. She stated that concerns about how provisional ballots were treated in the 2010 race for Hamilton County Juvenile Court judge prompted the letter, adding no significant progress has been made in dealing with the issue since that time.
“We are not heading in the right direction on provisional ballots and efforts to correct the problem are being ignored,” Reece wrote in the letter. “Federal monitors will help restore confidence in the democratic process among voters.”
In the 2010 judicial race, Democrat Tracie Hunter seemingly lost to Republican John Williams by just 23 votes out of nearly 230,000 ballots cast by county voters.
Under Ohio law, if the margin of victory is under one-half of 1 percent, an automatic recount is triggered. But exactly which ballots should be counted is at the heart of a bitter political battle between the Democratic and Republican parties, with potentially far-reaching consequences.
The dispute centers on which provisional ballots should be tallied. Provisional ballots are those cast by a person who may or may not be eligible to vote, which are set aside for later review by elections officials.
In the judicial race, 849 provisional ballots eventually were disqualified. Hunter and local Democratic Party leaders, however, believe 286 of those ballots should be counted because they were cast by people who showed up to vote at the correct polling place but were misdirected by poll workers and voted at the wrong precinct table.
Nearly 15 months later, the matter still is pending before U.S. District Court Judge Susan Dlott.
Hunter filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging the ballots should be counted. Dlott ordered the local Board of Elections to precisely determine how many ballots weren’t counted due to poll worker error, before she decided.
Local Republicans appealed the order and tried to get the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on the matter, but it declined to hear the case in April 2011. That put the issue back in Dlott’s court.
Dlott indicated in September that she expected to make a ruling in the case within 30 days, but that never occurred.
Ohio currently doesn’t have a uniform standard for counting provisional ballots when there is poll worker error. The decision to count or toss out a provisional ballot when a poll worker makes a mistake is instead determined by each county Board of Elections.
Many Hamilton County voters feel disenfranchised by the uncertainty and the why the disputed race has been handled, Reece said.
A former Cincinnati vice mayor, Reece represents the Ohio House 33rd District, which includes eastern Cincinnati as well as Deer Park, Elmwood, Golf Manor, Norwood, Silverton, St. Bernard and parts of Columbia, Springfield, and Sycamore townships.