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Warning issued on absentees



Published: Thu, October 26, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



Heavy volume is expected, but the ballots cannot be counted before Nov. 7.

CLEVELAND (AP) -- County election boards facing a surge in absentee ballots from voters concerned about polling-place lines and problems were warned by the state Wednesday against counting or even computer-scanning absentee votes before Election Day.

Some local election boards facing heavy absentee-ballot use have pressed for permission to scan ballots into computers before Election Day, while holding off on tallying votes until the state-mandated start of 7:30 p.m. on Election Day.

"Ohio law simply does not allow ballots to be counted prior to Election Day," said James Lee, spokesman for Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, Ohio's chief election officer and the Republican candidate for governor in the Nov. 7 election.

"Boards of elections can open up absentee ballots, lay them flat in order to get the creases out," Lee said.

The secretary of state's office considers computer scanning of absentee ballots -- even if totals aren't tabulated -- as prohibited early counting, Lee said.

Columbus, Cleveland

The issue of early scanning has emerged in Columbus and Cleveland, where every registered voter received a mailed absentee ballot application to encourage absentee voting with the goal of reducing possible election lines and problems. A new Ohio law allows anyone to vote absentee. In the past, people had to give an accepted reason for not voting in person.

Lee said there was no statewide estimate of the number of absentee ballots for the election.

Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, expects more than 100,000 multipage absentee ballots, with more than 300,000 pages to be scanned. There were fewer than 35,000 absentees cast in Cuyahoga County in the 2002 midterm election and fewer than 48,000 in 2004.

With nonstop scanning beginning at 12:01 a.m. Election Day with 60 machines, Cuyahoga County hopes to complete absentee counting by 7 p.m. to clear computers for nearly 6,000 computer cards from polling-place electronic voting machines. During the May primary, some memory cards were lost and the vote count lasted six days.

Michael Vu, director of the Cuyahoga County board, said Wednesday that the board also would have 15 backup vote-scanning machines for absentees. The machines have been tested seven times, Vu said.

If more absentee ballots are returned and the board cannot finish counting them by 7 p.m. Election Day, the remaining absentees will be tallied after the evening count of polling-place vote memory cards, Vu said.




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