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Secretary of State's Office Defends New Directive on Provisional Ballots

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Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted is coming under fire from Democrats, who are suing his office over the way he’s telling boards of elections to deal with provisional ballots. In an interview with Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles, Matt McClellan of the Ohio Secretary of State’s office explains the directive and what it will mean for Ohio voters.

Monday, November 5, 2012 at 5:27 pm

McClellan: “Well the directive that was issued on Friday really was done so because of the recent litigation that’s taken place in the state -- and primarily, it dealt with on a provisional ballot form, the requirement that a vote needs to print their name and sign their name. And so we just wanted to make sure counties had the most up to date information and given that the voter was -- there’s three steps on the form, you have to print your name, provide a form of ID, be it the last four digits of your Social Security number, a driver’s license number, and then you have to sign your name. And since the voter is required to sign their name, print it, obviously it's about who is the best to fill out that form. And we just believe voter's fully capable to provide their ID.”

Ingles: “But hasn’t the court already said that poll workers should be putting in the rest of that information?”

McClellan: “Well the issue of the ID was never something that was brought up or litigated in the court.”

Ingles: “So the court did not speak to that specific issue?”

McClellan: “No”

Ingles: “OK, but the court did rule though, in the right church wrong pew ruling, that provisional ballots, if the poll worker made the mistake, it could still be counted. Now the court hasn’t spoken to the issue if the voter makes a mistake, can it still be counted. So a lot of people would say you are going away from protection of the voter by changing it and putting the onus on the voter to make the changes. What do you think about that?”

McClellan: “What I would point out is, in the case of right church, wrong pew, if the voter is in the right polling location but votes in the wrong precinct, the court did ultimately rule that that vote should be counted. However, the court also ruled -- initially a lower court had ruled that if the voter didn’t provide a signature or printed name that that ballot should be counted, but the appeals court actually overturned that ruling, saying that the signature and printed name must be present and the voter must provide that. And it’s a very simple form to fill out. And that's why we believe the voter shouldn’t have any issue filling out this form. If for some reason, they have to cast a provisional ballot, it’s very simple. All they have to do is print their name, provide the last four of their Social Security or driver’s license number or any of the other forms of accepted ID such as a current utility bill, bank statement, government paycheck, and then sign the ballot. So it’s a very simple form. There shouldn’t be any issues. We expect a very smooth process.”

Ingles: “Are you expecting an increase in the number of provisional ballots we'll have this year as compared with years in the past?”

McClellan: “Well we’ve not made any projection on how many provisional ballots there will be in this election. We do expect some, but we are really not sure of how many that will be. We will have a better sense of that after the polls close once the counties have an opportunity to report those numbers to us.”

Provisional ballots cast in this year’s election cannot, by law, be counted until Nov. 17. If this is a razor close election, those provisional ballots could be critical to determining winners and losers. And because all Ohioans received applications for paper ballots this year some of which have not been returned there could be more provisional ballots this year. Voters who received ballots by mail but choose to go to the polls to vote will have to vote a provisional ballot.

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