Voting Problems in Ohio Spur Call for Overhaul
By JAMES DAO, FORD FESSENDEN and TOM ZELLER Jr.
COLUMBUS, Ohio, Dec. 22 - William Shambora, 53, is the kind of diligent voter who once assumed that his ballot always counted. He got a rude awakening this year.
Mr. Shambora, an economics professor at Ohio University, moved during the summer but failed to notify the Athens County Board of Elections until the day before the presidential election. An official told him to use a provisional ballot.
But under Ohio law, provisional ballots are valid only when cast from a voter's correct precinct. Mr. Shambora was given a ballot for the wrong precinct, a fact he did not learn until after the election. Two weeks later, the board discarded his vote, adding him to a list of more than 300 provisional ballots that were rejected in that heavily Democratic county.
"It seems like such a confused system," said Mr. Shambora, a John Kerry supporter who blames himself for the mistake. "Maybe if enough people's votes had counted, the election might have turned out differently."
From seven-hour lines that drove voters away to malfunctioning machines to poorly trained poll workers who directed people to the wrong polling places to uneven policies about the use of provisional ballots, Ohio has become this year's example for every ailment in the United States' electoral process.
With a state recount expected to be completed next week, few experts think the problems were enough to overturn President Bush's victory here. And many of the shortcomings have plagued elections for decades.
But with the 36-day Florida recount of 2000 proving that every vote counts and with the two major parties near parity, the electoral system is being scrutinized more closely than ever. Election lawyers and academics say Ohio is providing a roadmap to a second generation of issues about the way the nation votes.
Congressional passage of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 - which mandated the provisional ballot as a failsafe and provided states money to update voting technology - was considered a landmark overhaul that would help prevent another Florida.
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