Two top Ohio Republicans suddenly find themselves tangled up over the issue of polling place challenges. Yesterday, in what the Cleveland Plain Dealer called a "stunning announcement," Republican Secretary of State Ken Blackwell moved to "pre- vent battalions of political party activists from challenging Ohio voters at polling places on Tuesday." The state's Republican Attorney General Jim Petro quickly shot down Blackwell's request, insisting, "Neither the secretary of state nor I can negotiate away the legal rights of Ohio's citizens. Thus, I cannot submit to the federal courts the secretary's unlawful proposal to ban all challengers for all parties, candidates or issues on Election Day."
Both Blackwell and Petro have announced their intention on running for governor in 2006.
The prospect of widespread polling place confrontations, as activists from parties question the eligibility of voters, has set the state on edge, particularly since the GOP announced it planned on sending out thousands of polling observers statewide, particularly in predominantly Africa-American precincts. There are currently two separate federal lawsuits in Ohio, one in Akron, one in Cincinnati, which are trying to outlaw any such challenges. The odds that the courts will be able to resolve those cases by Tuesday appear slim, which prompted Blackwell to make his surprising call for a moratorium. This, just days after Blackwell instructed county elections boards to allow a challenger in each precinct.