Hamilton County to defy order and scan ballots early
CINCINNATI (AP) -- Hamilton County elections officials said they will defy a state order and scan absentee ballots before Election Day.
Early scanning of absentee ballots is needed to prevent a delay in election results Nov. 7, said Hamilton County Board of Elections Director John Williams.
Many county election boards are facing a surge in absentee ballots because of a new Ohio law allowing anyone to vote absentee. In the past, people had to give an accepted reason for not voting in person.
Williams, citing a legal opinion from Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, said it's legal to scan absentee ballots as long as they aren't counted.
The move contradicts a directive from Secretary of State Ken Blackwell. State law does not allow early counting, and the state considers computer scanning of absentee ballots -- even if totals aren't tabulated -- as prohibited early counting, said James Lee, a spokesman for the office.
Lee said Saturday that he was unaware of Hamilton County's intentions but would address the issue with state elections officials.
Elections officials in Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, considered scanning absentee ballots early but backed down after Blackwell issued his order.
Hamilton County anticipates 45,000 to 50,000 absentee ballots.
"This does not in any way, shape or form mean that in any way we are going to tabulate or count, or however you want to put it," Williams said. "We are just going to lift the paper image into a digital medium."
If the county had to wait until after polls closed, results could be delayed by 48 hours or more, Williams said. Ballots scanned early would be kept under lock and key and stored until voting was completed, he said.