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Ohio's primary and election Reform

Ohio's primary and election Reform – the good, the bad and the ugly


by Bob Fitrakis and Ron Baiman
freepress.org

The good news is that visible strides were made in re-enfranchising Ohio’s Franklin County (Columbus) inner city urban voters in the March 4, 2008 primary. Voting machines and paper ballots were plentiful and equally distributed. But,the bad news is that the discrepancy between the preliminary exit poll data and the unofficial vote tallies was reminiscent of the improbable results of the 2004 presidential election in Ohio between John Kerry and George W. Bush. While the Clinton-Obama results are more probable than the Kerry-Bush results of 2004, they are still highly suspect and suggest statistically significant flaws in the exit polling or in the recording of Ohio votes.

In their "day after" analysis, the Washington Post reported (on page A9) that the Ohio Democratic presidential primary "preliminary exit poll results show the makeup of the electorate and how it voted."

The preliminary exit poll information showed Clinton beating Obama by 3.26% -- Clinton with 51.13% and Obama with 47.87%.

The unofficial results posted on the website of the Ohio Secretary of State are: Clinton 54.29%, Obama 44.00% and Edwards 1.72%, which gives a Clinton to Obama gap of 10.29%. This gives us a difference of 7.03% from the exit poll results.

The odds of Obama’s Ohio results happening given the 4% margin of error mentioned by the Washington Post are one in every 35 elections. Clinton’s Ohio vote total is likely to occur once in every 16 elections.

The 4% margin of error included more than a 60% increase for a so-called "cluster factor." Without the "cluster factor" adjustment, the margin of error on the sample size of about 1600 would be 2.5%. Without this "cluster factor" adjustment, the odds of Obama’s Ohio results happening are one in every 954 elections; Clinton’s Ohio vote total would occur once in every 165 elections.

Although the unexpected election results baffled election observers, they found that the polling places ran smoothly in Franklin County. Voters in Franklin County had the choice of voting on electronic voting machines or on a paper ballot.

Unlike the 2004 Ohio presidential election, inner city precincts in Columbus had plenty of machines. In Franklin County’s ward 55 precinct B that had three machines in the 2004 general election, there were six machines and a dedicated paper ballot voting table. Gone were the three to seven hour waits in the near east side’s 55th and 5th wards. The longest wait recorded by Free Press election observers in Franklin County’s inner city was 15 minutes.

In Cleveland, the wait was longer. Fifteen or so precincts remained open until 9pm by a federal judge’s order, after running out of paper ballots. In Cuyahoga County, voters voted primarily on paper ballots, although polling sites provided an electronic voting machine for voters with disabilities.

Election observers reporting to the Free Press attributed the Cleveland mess in part to increased voting by independents and registered Republicans crossing over to vote on a Democratic ballot.

Also, an election observer reported the failure to secure ballots after the polls closed in the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections vote counting area.

In a giant step forward, reversing the partisan policies of former Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, inner city voters at polling places with multiple precincts were allowed to vote at the shortest line and on any free voting machine.

In 2004 and 2006, poll workers failed to post early voting results by precinct. In this year’s primary, poll workers had a nearly perfect record in a dozen inner city precincts, posting results at the 6:30 opening of the polls and updating at 11:30am and 4pm. Free Press observers only found one polling site, the combined 55a and c that failed to post the 4pm results. Poll workers immediately turned over the poll list to the Free Press upon request and subsequently posted the results.

The end of the day tallies, which Blackwell failed to mandate, were posted at all but two of the 12 precincts observed, 5A and 5C.

A small number of problems emerged during primary election day. Poll workers seemed confused about procedures involving paper ballots versus provisional ballots. At various polling sites Franklin County voters who asked for a paper ballot had their ballots placed in a provisional ballot envelope. A Free Press editor who cast a ballot on paper was told that it "wasn’t worth as much" as the vote on the ES&S computer voting machine.

Some provisional voters were not given a sheet with phone numbers to call and dates when they could call to see if their vote was counted.

The observer team found one polling place switched at a late date. The Fifth Avenue Elementary School had a note on the door re-directing voters to vote at the Thompson Recreation Center, both in the same neighborhood in Columbus’ Short North.

Ohio’s Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner admitted the obvious on Ohio News Network – that there needed to be more poll worker training for Ohio’s general election.

Poll workers told a Free Press reporter that they were given six hours of training, but very little of it was "hands-on."

The improvements in Franklin County’s election can be attributed to the relentless efforts of the election protection movement and new policies drafted by Secretary of State Brunner’s office. Controversial Franklin County Board of Elections Director Matt Damschroder was forced out by Brunner two days before the primary. Damschroder openly defied Brunner’s directives, particularly one mandating that voters be allowed to vote on paper. Nevertheless, the ugly news is that Franklin County Democrats rewarded Damschroder, the former Republican Party Chair, by voting to keep him on as a "consultant" for the rest of the year at his full salary.

*************

Bob Fitrakis has a Ph.D. in political science and was an election observer in the Ohio 2004 general election and Ohio's 2008 primary. Ron Baiman has a Ph.D. in economics.

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