Settling: Ohio Agrees to Change Election Practices

images9 In 2004, Ohio became the new Florida. Secretary of State Ken Blackwell became the most reviled figure in the election reform movement long before election day, when he attempted to nullify tens of thousands of voter registration forms based on technicalities. When the results of the election came down to Ohio late at night, reports of mistakes from electronic voting machines, long lines at inner-city polling places and other anomalies immediately popped up on the Internet. Two years later, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., in Rolling Stone, accused Republicans of keeping 350,000 voters from casting ballots or having their votes counted.

The Ohio mystery has been in court since 2005, when the League of Women Voters of Ohio (LWVO) brought a lawsuit against Blackwell and then-governor Bob Taft calling for increased oversight of the planning and execution of the election system.

A settlement was reached on Tuesday. More procedural than sexy, the results were still heralded as a “landmark victory” by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights under Law, one of the groups that brought the suit. Mainly, the settlement requires the Board of Elections (BOE) to draft a planning memo to discuss matters such as resource allocation (voting machines and ballots) as well as requiring an Election Day communication strategy for poll workers to contact the BOE with problems like disputed ballots and shortage of ballots. The settlement also requires uniform training to ensure that poll workers understand the chain of command on Election Day, are better prepeared to resolve issues, and will undergo the same procedures throughout the state. Finally, the BOE and Secretary of State will make on-site inspections at local BOE offices to make sure the registration guidelines are being followed, as well as keep a tighter reign on how ballots are counted.

So there you have it. Voter-disenfranchisement poster figure Ken Blackwell did not go to jail. The 2004 results were not overturned and no one has admitted to stealing or erasing votes. Those kind of Hollywood endings are found in movies, not legal proceedings. But the state of Ohio has taken a giant step in reforming their state’s election system. While this settlement by no means resolves all the complex issues associated with Ohio elections and voter registration, it may encourage other states to enact such reforms.