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Ohio provisional ballots in need of common-sense fix

January 28, 2011
Salem News

Ohio's laws on provisional ballots are so confusing and convoluted that even the courts can't sort them out. State legislators need to step in and make corrections.

Provisional ballots are those cast when election poll workers are not certain potential voters are legitimate. That can happen for several reasons. Perhaps a voter forgot to take identification documents to the polls, moved and didn't update his registration, or simply went to the wrong polling place.

The idea behind state law is that election workers can accept ballots provisionally, then check later to determine whether votes should be counted.

State law on the matter is confusing enough that some election workers do not seem to understand it. Certainly, many voters do not.

And now, the courts are involved in conflict over provisional ballots. Lawsuits involving one disputed race in the election last fall were filed in the state Supreme Court and at U.S. District Court. You guessed it: The two courts issued conflicting rulings. Now, a higher federal court is being asked to determine whether state or federal courts have jurisdiction over Ohio election laws.

Regardless of what happens in the court case, state legislators should take another look at provisional balloting laws. They need to be clear enough that there is no confusion among either voters or election workers. They also need to be fair - not disenfranchising voters for relatively minor errors but at the same time preventing vote fraud.

However the issue is decided in the courts, Ohio legislators should take another look at provisional voting laws. Last fall, more than 105,000 of them were cast throughout the state, so the matter clearly is an important one. As soon as possible, Gov. John Kasich and lawmakers should devise common-sense repairs to the law.



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