Politics & Policy

Return of the Hanging Chad?

Voting is an issue in Ohio.

Columbus, Ohio — Last Tuesday, I received an e-mail from the Ohio Republican party alleging that thousands of paper ballots had been mishandled in Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County. The e-mail came with photographs of ballots stuffed into flimsy cardboard boxes, awaiting transport with nothing but a few pieces of tape over the slot. In an interview, Ohio GOP deputy chairman Kevin DeWine tells National Review Online, “When people think of the secure transportation of their ballots from one place to another, I don’t think they think of a cardboard box with a piece of tape over the slot as being the high-tech secure measure of safeguarding what is probably the most important right we have.”

At first I wondered why the Ohio GOP would be raising such strenuous objections. Cuyahoga County is heavily Democratic, and there weren’t any fiercely contested Republican races there on Tuesday. Then I learned why Cuyahoga County was using paper ballots to begin with — Ohio’s Democratic secretary of state, Jennifer Brunner, apparently shares left-wing paranoia over electronic voting machines, and at the last minute ordered Cuyahoga County to ditch theirs in favor of paper ballots.

“It wasn’t an issue for us in this race, necessarily,” DeWine explains. “It was that we know what Brunner wants to do… She wants to put the whole state back on paper ballots.”

To expedite the considerably slower process of counting the paper ballots, Brunner ordered batches of them picked up from polling places at midday and transported to central locations for scanning. According to Ohio law, ballots are required to be transported with at least one member of each party present. County elections officials acknowledged Tuesday that some ballots were transported by Democrats alone, which is a violation of the rules.

“If you do paper ballots, the next logical step is she’s going to want to do midday pick-ups,” DeWine says. “Then the next logical step is we’re going to have the same junk system for midday pick-ups that we did in Cuyahoga County, and that might be fine in a heavily Democratic county during a primary, but that system will not work to instill any kind of voter confidence in what would be a hotly contested general election.”

There were other problems. Some polling places in Cleveland reportedly ran out of paper ballots, leading the Barack Obama campaign to file a lawsuit that kept voting in some precincts open an hour and half after they were scheduled to close. Critics of Brunner’s plan to junk electronic voting machines argue that the machines, which cost the state millions to acquire, are faster and easier to use, and that replacing them with paper ballots and scanners would cost the state millions more at a time when money is scarce.

“What I see with Secretary of State Brunner is a partisan effort… to advance an agenda that is promoted by a small but vocal minority of folks who believe that anything that’s electronic is bad,” DeWine says, referring to the cadre of left-wingers who believe that Diebold, the Ohio-based company that makes most of the voting machines used in the U.S., somehow rigged the election in Ohio for Bush and Cheney.

In fact, of the persuasively documented instances of voter fraud that occurred in the state of Ohio in 2004, the most egregious stemmed from phony voter registrations concocted by members of a left-wing activist group called the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN. In September of 2004, a Franklin County, Ohio grand jury indicted an ACORN employee for submitting false registration signatures and several other counts of voter fraud.

DeWine says that Brunner’s actions as secretary of state have made it harder for the Ohio GOP to safeguard against phony voter-registration efforts this year. “She has refused to appoint several Republican members back to the local boards of elections for what we consider to be pretty thin evidence,” he says. “These are folks who are experienced, who are good hard-working folks, who spoke out and raised issues and concerns with what the secretary was trying to accomplish, and they lost their jobs.”

Matt Damschroder is one of the directors who was ousted. Damschroder, a critic of Brunner’s decision to ditch voting machines in Cuyahoga County, lost his position after he agreed to testify in an ACLU lawsuit filed to stop the switch to paper ballots.

Damschroder is only one of several Republican directors who have made Brunner’s “hit list,” according to the Ohio GOP. DeWine explained how this interferes with efforts to stop groups like ACORN from committing voter fraud. “Part of it is to make sure that when folks from these ‘community groups’ are sitting down with voter registration forms at their kitchen table with a phone book, that we have a vigilant set of eyes and ears at the local boards of elections to weed that out,” he says. “That’s why the things that are going on with the county boards of elections and her refusal to re-appoint our experienced, qualified people is a big deal for us.”

Jennifer Brunner has put a brave face on Tuesday’s results and is pressing ahead with her plan to switch the state over to paper ballots, even though a paper system runs the risk of shortages, takes longer and would cost the state millions of dollars when it’s already spent millions on electronic machines that work fine. Ohio will be a crucial battleground in November, and the last thing we need is for a Florida-type fracas to cast doubts on the legitimacy of the results. Unfortunately, Brunner’s aversion to technology portends a return to the acrimonious days of the hanging chad.

— Stephen Spruiell is an NRO staff reporter.

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