Disputed election cases proceeding through the courtsWritten by Staff Reports | | firstname.lastname@example.org
In Hamilton County, a federal appeals court will make the next decision in a still-disputed juvenile court judge election in southwest Ohio. In Lucas County a case is still pending in the common pleas court system on a still-disputed commissioner’s election.
Lawyers for Hamilton County and Republican John Williams are contesting a federal judge’s ruling that about 150 disputed ballots should be counted before the winner is declared. The ballots were excluded because they were cast at the wrong precincts, but the judge said they shoud be counted because they apparently were miscast because of poll worker errors.
A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Court of Appeals heard arguments the evening of Jan. 20 about the Nov. 2 election, whose results gave Williams a 23-vote victory.
The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that lawyers for Democrat Tracie Hunter say the government must investigate any mistake that could disenfranchise voters.
“There needs to be a meaningful investigation here,” said attorney Jennifer Branch.
“Mistakes happen. Elections aren’t perfect,” said Dave Stevenson, attorney for the county’s board of elections. “Mistakes just don’t rise to a constitutional level.”
The case has potential implications for future Ohio elections beyond the juvenile judge race because it raises the question of whether state election laws adequately protect the constitutional rights of voters.
One of the three judges, John Rogers, expressed concern about a rise in election challenges in court.
“We don’t want to have a system where every time the vote is close, we have to have a federal case,” said Rogers.
The Ohio Supreme Court and Secretary of State Jon Husted say the poll workers were right to exclude ballots cast at the wrong place.
The appeals judges didn’t indicate when they would rule.
The Columbus Dispatch reports that Ohio has had one of the nation’s highest rates of provisional ballots, which are typically cast by voters who move and fail to update their addresses. Such ballots are held for 10 days to check the voters’ eligibility, which adds cost and uncertainty to the election process.
Approximately 105,000 provisional ballots were cast in November, 89 percent were counted.
“We need a better solution than what we have right now, and there are many approaches toward minimizing this problem,” said Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican to the Dispatch.
A bill that would require a ballot to be counted if the voter was in the right voting location but was told to vote in the wrong precinct was introduced by Ohio House Democrats.
Husted said the bill has constructive ideas and “is a good starting point.” He said voters need to be more responsible when it comes to making sure they are registered at the correct address.
In Lucas County, provisional ballots are at dispute in the Commissioner’s race. Initially it was believed Toledo City Councilman George Sarantou was the winner, after provisional ballots were counted the official winner was then Sylvania Township Trustee Carol Contrada. Contrada has been sworn into office as Commissioner.
Sarantou has a court case filing in Lucas County Common Pleas Court contesting the number of provisional ballots that were counted and the election results. A hearing on the merits of the petition is scheduled for Jan. 31.
Husted told the Dispatch he wants uniformity when it comes to how counties handle provisional ballots. “It doesn’t become an issue until there is a close election, but that’s also the time doing it the right way matters most,” Husted said.
Associated Press contributed to this report.