Review shows Sarantou lacked enough questionable ballot envelopes to change election outcomeWritten by Lisa Renee Ward | | firstname.lastname@example.org
A Feb. 9 review found there were not enough questionable ballot envelopes to alter the outcome of the November election for Lucas County Commissioner.
Under the supervision of two poll workers, one Republican and one Democrat, Toledo Free Press reviewed the more than 4,000 provisional ballot affirmation identification envelopes from the Nov. 2 election at the Lucas County Board of Elections on Feb. 9. Roughly 110 were found to be questionable.
Provisional ballots were at the heart of an election contest filed by Toledo City Councilman George Sarantou in Lucas County Common Pleas Court, after his unofficial victory reported on Nov. 2 was changed to a victory for then Sylvania Township Trustee Carol Contrada, initially by 191 votes.
A recount including provisional ballots changed the margin of victory for Contrada to 193 votes. Sarantou filed a contest of election on Dec. 13 and dropped the case on Feb. 3.
Sarantou said in a prepared statement on Feb. 3, “I believe in my heart that I won this election. But given the law on the subject, the only way I could show that in court would be to call individual voters to ask them how they voted, and I respect the rights of voters to vote privately, which is a hallmark of our democracy.”
Sarantou told Toledo Free Press on Feb. 10, “My team identified approximately 1,500 provisional ballot envelopes that had some type of deficit. I stand behind my earlier statement and I also want to point out that I spoke to Secretary of State Jon Husted who has assured me his office will be investigating further.”
Sarantou said he felt scenarios such as driver’s license numbers not being notated on the provisional ballot envelopes was something that should be addressed and hoped that the General Assembly would look at our voting laws after the Secretary of State had made recommendations. Howe said that information is not required to be placed on the provisional envelope and that the verification process involves information the BOE has access to that is not contained on the envelopes.
Stephen Hartman, the attorney representing Contrada in the election court case, told Toledo Free Press on Feb. 9, “The number of envelopes they claimed were questionable, were less than they had previously represented. The truth of the matter is, the number of questionable ballots was less than the margin of victory, so he could not have won the lawsuit, even if he would have gone forward.”
A majority of the identification envelopes a voter fills out before casting a provisional ballot for the election listed more identifying information than is required under Ohio law. There is a section on the provisional ballot that asks for “voluntary information” — phone numbers and e-mail addresses were included on numerous ballots. Driver’s license numbers and the last four digits of Social Security numbers were written on a large number of envelopes.
Less than a dozen provisional envelopes had the word “invalid” marked through and the word “valid” written. Approximately 100 ballots had language that suggested the vote was cast in the correct location but wrong precinct; it did not appear that there were enough questionable provisional envelopes to create a change in the electoral outcome based on the information listed on the envelopes.
Most of the envelopes contained notations from Board of Election (BOE) employees that suggested the information on the provisional was verified. A voter requesting an absentee ballot then attempting to vote in person was a common notation on the provisional ballot envelopes; in that scenario, the provisional ballot is held to make sure the person did not cast an absentee ballot.
Provisional ballots that are cast in the right location but wrong precinct were the source of a directive issued by then Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner that stated that under a federal court order, “a provisional ballot cast by a voter using the last four digits of his/her Social Security number as identification may be counted if it is cast in the correct polling location but not the correct precinct. ONLY IF the reason the vote was cast in the wrong precinct was poll worker error.”
Linda Howe, executive director of the Lucas County BOE, told Toledo Free Press on Feb. 9 that the way Lucas County has manned provisional voting tables, with a ballot for each voting precinct and a label on each envelope, “It had to be poll worker error. There’s no other way a person can be given a wrong provisional unless they are given the wrong ballot.”
There were close to 300 provisional ballots notated, “out of county.”
“We check with the other county — check to see they were registered there as long as they were a registered voter and the signature matches, the vote counts,” Howe said.
A copy of the registration card is faxed from one county to the other so the signatures can be compared. She said this only applies to those within Ohio.