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OHIO ELECTION Judges bar challengers from polls

Monday, November 1, 2004

Republicans plan to appeal the decision.
Two federal judges barred political party challengers from polling places throughout Ohio during Tuesday's election.
State Republicans planned to appeal.
The order today by U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott, based in Cincinnati, found that the application of Ohio's statute allowing challengers at polling places was unconstitutional. Inexperienced challengers' questioning voters about their eligibility would impede voting, she said.
Mark Weaver, lawyer for the Ohio Republican Party, called the ruling erroneous and said the party would ask the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati to overturn it.
Intimidation allegation
Judge Dlott, appointed a federal judge in 1995 by President Clinton, ruled on a lawsuit by a black Cincinnati couple who said Republican plans to deploy challengers to largely black precincts in Hamilton County were meant to intimidate and block black voters.
Republicans said they wanted to prevent voter fraud.
Democrats said they were there to assist and protect voters, and had no plans to challenge voter eligibility.
Judge Dlott said in her order that the evidence "does not indicate that the presence of additional challengers would serve Ohio's interest in preventing voter fraud better than would the system of election judges."
Poll workers' job
Also today, U.S. District Judge John Adams of Akron said poll workers are the ones to determine if voters are eligible.
"In light of these extraordinary circumstances, and the contentious nature of the imminent election, the court cannot and must not turn a blind eye to the substantial likelihood that significant harm will result not only to voters, but also to the voting process itself, if appointed challengers are permitted at the polls," Judge Adams said. President Bush appointed Judge Adams to the federal bench in 2003.
Democrats and Republicans filed paperwork Oct. 22 to have challengers in each voting precinct in each of Mahoning County's 312 precincts and Trumbull County's 274 precincts.
A few days later, Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell issued an edict limiting the number of challengers, permitting one in each polling place and not every precinct. That reduced the number in Mahoning to 158 challengers and to 136 challengers in Trumbull County.
In Columbiana County, Republicans had three challengers, and Democrats had 20. There are 103 precincts in the county, and 86 polling places.
Hearings halted
In a separate case last week, Judge Dlott temporarily halted election board hearings on challenges. The state GOP had challenged 35,000 registrations because mail to those addresses came back undelivered. An appeal by Republicans was rejected.
Democrats said the GOP was trying to keep the poor and minorities, who move more often, from voting, and was targeting new voters registered by political groups supporting Sen. John Kerry. Republicans said they filed the challenges to protect the integrity of votes cast by people properly registered.