Court says count disputed Ohio judge race ballotsWritten by Associated Press | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Provisional ballots improperly cast because of poll worker errors should be counted in an Ohio judge race that has been disputed since the November election, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday.
The decision by a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked efforts by the Hamilton County Board of Elections and Republican John Williams to have Williams declared the winner in the county juvenile judge race.
Williams leads Democrat Tracie Hunter by 23 votes in the official count out of 230,000 votes cast.
Lawyers for Hunter have argued that the government must investigate any mistake that could disenfranchise voters.
“We are pleased that the 6th Circuit recognized that the district court’s order was correct and that the board has to count the provisional ballots that were miscast because the board’s poll workers made mistakes,” Hunter’s attorney Jennifer Branch said.
Many of the disputed ballots were in Democratic precincts.
Telephone calls to the board, its lawyer David Stevenson and Williams’ lawyer Joseph Parker weren’t immediately returned Thursday.
U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott in November ordered the elections board to investigate whether poll worker error contributed to the rejection of the ballots, and she later ordered that about 150 disputed ballots be counted before the winner is declared. The ballots were excluded because they were cast at wrong precincts, but the judge said they should be counted because they apparently were miscast due to poll worker errors.
Lawyers for Williams and the board contested the judge’s ruling, arguing that election results shouldn’t be delayed indefinitely by investigations into every potential error at polling places.
The Ohio Supreme Court and Secretary of State Jon Husted have said that the board was right to exclude the ballots under state law.
The appeals judges concluded that the district court “did not abuse its discretion” in ordering the board to investigate whether poll worker error contributed to the rejection of provisional ballots and to include provisional ballots improperly cast because of poll worker error in the recount.
The board counted some ballots miscast because of poll worker error at one polling place but rejected others that may have been miscast at other polling places for the same reasons, the judges said.
In their ruling, the judges said the board “treated one set of provisional ballots differently from others, and the unequal treatment violates the Equal Protection Clause” of the U.S. Constitution.
Husted had raised the concern that the district court would be required to order statewide the same investigative process that was applied to Hamilton County’s provisional ballots to avoid treating provisional ballots across the state differently.
But the judges said that because voters in other counties may not cast votes for a local judgeship, “remedying poll-worker error with respect to votes in this race does not result in unequal treatment of voters outside Hamilton County.”
The court of appeals returned the case to Dlott for further argument on whether there was enough evidence of poll worker error to count some disputed ballots and left it to Dlott to direct the board how to proceed.
It’s unclear how many ballots may have been affected by poll worker error.