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Residents react to challenges of voter registration status



Published: Fri, October 29, 2004 @ 12:00 a.m.



Hearings were stopped across the state.

By STEPHEN SIFF

VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF

WARREN -- Eight of the nearly 450 Trumbull County registered voters whose status was challenged by Republicans showed up for scheduled hearings at the county board of elections.

None of them was happy.

"I feel that my rights are being stepped upon," said Allen Hupp, 50, a Democrat who plans to vote Tuesday. "I've been voting since I was 18."

The basis for all these challenges was that a piece of mail sent from the board of elections was returned as undeliverable.

Friday morning, the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an order by U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott in Cincinnati preventing hearings on similar challenges in Franklin, Lawrence, Medina, Cuyahoga, Scioto and Trumbull counties.

Friday afternoon, Judge Dlott issued another order, calling on Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell to order the other 82 county boards of elections not to hold scheduled hearings. Blackwell has been a proponent of allowing the hearings to go forward.

Challenges

Statewide, about 35,000 voter registrations are being challenged on the basis of undeliverable mail. Those include 115 registrations in Mahoning County and 49 in Columbiana.

The piece of undeliverable mail raised questions about whether these voters are actually residents of the precincts they claim, the challenges say. In Trumbull County, the challenges were filed by Joshua Garris of Mineral Ridge, who is registered as an election day challenger for the Republicans.

Letters notifying 449 Trumbull County residents that their voter registration was being challenged were mailed to the same addresses Tuesday.

"Seven or eight people showed up in person, and another 400 didn't show up," said Atty. J.P. Morgan, representing Garris.

He said his client did not doubt the right to vote of the people who did show up Friday morning. It was the others he worried about.

"If it was not for the allegations of voter fraud in Ohio, these challenges would not have been made," Garris said.

Reasons for returns

Board officials cited several reasons why a valid voter's mail might be returned. For example, there could have been mistakes on the part of the post office or the board of election or the voter could be a member of the military, college student or post office box user. In Hupp's case, there may have been an error when paperwork was filled out to change his address in July at a Department of Motor Vehicles office.

Another of the voters who arrived for a hearing Friday, Gene Coudriet, said he has been at the same address in Vienna since 1996. "I'm upset that somebody is challenging my right to vote and they say I don't live where I live at," he said.

Julia Simmons, of Howland, married last year and moved from one address to another in Howland. The 50-year-old Trumbull County Children Services supervisor, who voted Republican in 2000, said she was "furious" that her right to vote was being challenged.

"It's a disgrace," she said. "With all the ad campaigns, I think this election has been dirty enough."

Ten of the 449 people had already cast absentee ballots, officials said. Their ballots have been set aside.




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