Niggling over paper thickness in Ohio


Geraldine Sealey
September 28, 2004 6:57PM (UTC)

Jimmy Carter has already given up on the possibility of a fair election in Florida this time around, writing in the Washington Post yesterday that the best we can probably do at this point is to "focus maximum public scrutiny on the suspicious process" there. Carter may want to turn his election monitoring eye now to Ohio, another critical swing state, where election officials are also engaging in some questionable tactics designed to limit some voters' ability to cast ballots on Nov. 2. A cynic is left to wonder whether this has anything to do with massive voter registration drives in Ohio -- especially in heavily-Democratic areas -- as the New York Times reported on Sunday.

The Dayton Daily News reports that Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell -- a Republican who's been called the state's very own Katherine Harris by one voting rights group -- is requiring county boards of elections to strictly adhere to a dated Ohio law that requires voter registration cards to be printed on thick, 80-pound stock paper.

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From the Daily News: "The paper-stock issue is frustrating Montgomery County Board of Elections officials, who have a backlog of registrations to complete. If they get an Ohio voter registration card on paper thinner than required, they are mailing a new card out to the voter. But if they still have the backlog by the registration deadline, Oct. 4, voters will not have another chance to get their correct paperwork in, said Steve Harsman, deputy director of the Montgomery County board. 'There is just no reason to use 80-pound paper,' Harsman said. In Montgomery County there is a backlog of around 4,000 registrations, Harsman said. A few hundred could be affected by this provision, he said."

The Cleveland newspaper apparently printed within its pages registration forms that readers and would-be voters could fill out and mail in -- a worthy and noble public service on the newspaper's part. But these applications on newsprint would not be accepted by the state under Blackwell's directive because they weren't printed on postcard-thick paper. The Daily News says Cuyahoga County board of elections officials are "ignoring the edict" from the state because they "have already had an avalanche of new registrations submitted on forms printed on newsprint in The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer."

"'We don't have a micrometer at each desk to check the weight of the paper,' said Michael Vu, director of the Cuyahoga County Board. Blackwell's office has given the Cuyahoga board a special dispensation to accept the newsprint registration forms."

Blackwell's office claims, according to the Daily News, the requirement is necessary because the registration forms are "designed to be mailed like post-cards and must be thick enough to survive mechanical sorters at the U.S. Post Office." But how many Ohioans are so unfamiliar with the concept of postcards that they are sending flimsy little squares of thin paper through the mail with postcard stamps on them thinking they'll make it through in one piece? We'd guess most people stuck their regular paper, or newsprint, into envelopes. The Daily News piece doesn't say.

"Confusing the matter further," the News says, "is a national registration form available off the Internet at the federal Elections Assistance Agency. That form must be accepted by Ohio boards regardless of what it is printed on, Blackwell has said."

"The heavy-weight paper was a requirement when the cards were kept for years, were used to keep track of when a person voted, and were the main way to check signatures to combat voter fraud and verify petitions. But many boards, including both Montgomery and Cuyahoga, scan the signatures into a computer database and no longer record voting history on the cards."

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"The League of Women Voters of Ohio on Thursday called on Blackwell to clarify his position. League national president Kay Maxwell said she knows of no other states that are requiring the 80-pound paper stock for voter registration cards. 'This is the first I've heard of it,' she said on Thursday in Columbus."


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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