PROVISIONAL BALLOTS Election officials get instructions

Poll workers and voters will be educated about the process.
COLUMBUS (AP) -- Provisional ballots could be the hanging chads of the 2004 presidential election, say critics of Ohio's guidelines for handling those votes.
Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell recently issued a directive to county election officials saying they are allowed to count provisional ballots only from voters who go to the correct polling location for their home address.
Blackwell has ordered that if residents go to the wrong precinct, poll workers must find their correct precinct and tell them where to go, Blackwell's spokesman Carlo LoParo said. They also may cast provisional ballots at their county election board.
Provisional voting allows properly registered voters to cast ballots even when their names don't appear on registration rolls because they moved or they were left off.
"It has a potential of being a very big issue, and how we train and how we prepare for it will dictate how we handle the situation," said Michael Sciortino, president of the Ohio Association of Election Officials and director of the Mahoning County elections board.
The key will be educating poll workers and voters before the election about the process, Sciortino said.
Lawsuits filed
The Ohio Voter Protection Project, a coalition of voting-rights groups, is considering a lawsuit to challenge Blackwell's directive before the Nov. 2 election, project attorney Sean Grayson said.
Similar lawsuits have been filed in Colorado and Missouri. A lawsuit in Florida was rejected this week.
Ohio is one of 29 states that will not count provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct, said Dan Seligson, editor of, a nonpartisan Web site covering voting procedures.
Ohio has had provisional balloting for more than a decade, mostly to accommodate residents who moved but did not update their voter registration. Such ballots are not counted for 10 days while election workers verify voter eligibility.
But after election problems were magnified by the close 2000 presidential race -- including eligible voters wrongly being turned away from the polls -- Congress passed the Help America Vote Act in 2002.
Part of that act requires states that did not have provisional voting to adopt it for voters who believe they are properly registered. That allows their vote to be counted if eligibility is confirmed later.
Critics argue that on a busy Election Day with potentially long lines, harried poll workers may not follow through or voters may not have the time or transportation to go elsewhere.
Critics worry that with tens of thousands of new voters registering for this fall's election, many voters won't know or be told their correct polling place. Also, precinct boundaries and polling locations have changed since past elections.

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