Just When You Started to Relax—More Ohio Voting Problems

It's no secret that the presidential race could come down to Ohio. The Buckeye State has loomed large for months, and word is, both Romney and Obama will be in Columbus on Election Night. According to Nate Silver, there’s a nearly 50-percent chance that the state will determine the election outcome. All eyes seem to be there—when WaPo’s The Fix shifted it from “leans Democratic” to “toss up” yesterday on the electoral map, half the internet seemed to respond with either cheers or jeers. 

But while everyone's been watching the polls and political rallies, the chances that the election will be mired in confusion and controversy increased this week. Thousands of requests for mail-in ballots across the state may have been unfairly rejected, thanks to a technical glitch in the data-sharing software between the state Bureau of Motor Vehicles and the Secretary of State's office. The idea is that when a voter updates her address at the BMV, it also gets updated at the Secretary of State's office. But for 65,000 registered voters, the updates weren't made. About half of those voters submitted a separate update to the voting registrar. That left 33,000 people whose address on the voter rolls did not match their actual address. The information is now being updated, so that by Election Day, the rolls should be correct.

But there's still a big problem for voters who chose to request mail-in ballots—an option Secretary of State Jon Husted has repeatedly encouraged. It's hard to know how many of the 33,000 requested absentee ballots, but those who did were probably rejected for the address discrepancy. The Cuyahoga County Board of Elections has already found 865 requests for ballots have been unfairly rejected. According to the Columbus Dispatch, the Northeast Ohio Voter Advocates (NOVA) estimates that if the same rate holds true across the state, 4,500 registered voters may have not have received the requested ballots, and another 6,000 provisional ballots might go uncounted. (Those who request absentee ballots and then choose to vote in person must vote provisionally.) This week, NOVA's research director, Norman Robbins, sent a letter to Husted requesting that he order all counties to doublecheck whether requests had been wrongfully rejected.

Husted, who's come under fire from voting-rights advocates for trying to limit early-voting hours, has bragged repeatedly in press releases about the state's absentee voting program—just Tuesday, his office sent a press release boasting that "1.2 million Ohioans have already cast ballots." But there's been no press release on the address mix-up. Ostensibly, there was enough time to get the wrongly rejected voters their mail-in ballots, but with the election only days away, they’ll need to send them back at lightening speed. According to the Secretary of State’s website, the mail-in ballots must be received by Saturday. 

Even then, the mail-in ballots won't all be counted; as I wrote last week, a new study shows that once sent in, mail-in ballots have a higher rate of being unfairly tossed out than any other form of voting. Nobody can say how many Ohioans will have their votes—or their requests for ballots—wrongfully rejected. But no matter what, it will be far too many.

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