Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The electoral system in Ohio worked well on Nov. 2. Every eligible voter who wanted to vote had the opportunity to vote. There was no widespread fraud, and there was no disenfranchisement. A half-million more Ohioans voted than ever before with fewer errors than four years ago, a sure sign of success by any measure.

Despite 27 separate lawsuits, hordes of special-interest group “swat teams” descending on polling places and a circus of Michael Moore-inspired camera crews, our bipartisan election system — and the order, integrity and transparency integral to it — prevailed.

Voter enthusiasm was higher than I have ever witnessed. Problems and complaints were minimal. In some polling places, the record-high turnout resulted in long lines. Yet both poll workers and voters were patient, and the civility that has marked the Ohio election process for as long as I can remember reigned once again. There is no question that the long wait times that plagued some precincts must be analyzed and addressed for future elections — a seven-hour wait is clearly unacceptable. I have personally proposed unrestricted use of absentee ballots and consideration of multi-day voting to make the process more convenient and accessible. Yet when the chief problem on Election Day is long lines, that’s a great day for democracy in my book.

Elections are a human endeavor and, as such, can never be totally error-free. Yet every eligible voter had the opportunity to vote, using regular or provisional ballots. Was the process perfect? No. But it was perfectly inspiring — a testament to the strength and power of our democratic system, the commitment of American voters to have their voices heard and the integrity of the process that encouraged participation and demanded fairness.

More than 5.5 million Ohioans voted on Election Day. Three key steps paved the way for our successful election:

• We took out the guesswork that plagued Florida’s administration of the 2000 election with clear standards, policies and procedures.

• We created an inviting atmosphere by training poll workers and restraining outsiders from interfering with voters and compromising the sanctity of the secret ballot.

• We prepared Ohioans on when to vote, where to vote and how to vote with the most comprehensive voter education program ever undertaken in Ohio.

Because we set clear standards, the lawsuit frenzy that followed Florida’s 2000 election was dealt with this year in Ohio in advance. By having litigation decided before the election, the confusion these lawsuits can wreak on poll workers and the voting public was minimized.

Because we trained our poll workers and enforced the “100-foot rule,” which requires non-voters to stay at least 100 feet away from each polling place, we were able to create a welcoming, completely non-threatening atmosphere for voters.

Perhaps most importantly, through “Your Vote Counts Ohio,” an unprecedented statewide voter education program, Ohio’s voters were well informed about when to vote, where to vote and how to vote using the equipment at their polling places.

• At www.YourVoteCountsOhio.org, voters could learn what type of voting equipment would be used in their county, and then watch a video demonstrating how to use it.

• Through television, radio, newspaper and Internet advertisements and public service announcements, voters using punch-card machines were shown how to vote properly, check their ballots before turning them in and make sure “hanging chads” were eliminated. A second wave of advertising emphasized the importance of voting at the correct precinct, in accordance with Ohio law, and informed voters how to find their voting location.

m Posters and how-to pocket guides for voters were available free of charge to third-party groups involved in voter registration and turnout activities. (Our office worked with more than 60 voter-registration campaigns over the past year, helping register more than 1million new Ohio voters.)

• More than 1 million “intelligent” automated telephone calls were placed to households in Ohio’s urban centers, where past error rates have been highest, to remind voters to vote and make sure they knew their polling location.

Since 2000, election reform has become an important issue in America, and rightfully so. But as we continue to address it, let us not aggrandize the problems with our election system. In Ohio, it’s a good one, as we demonstrated on Nov. 2. As our nation moves forward, adopting more modern tools to manage voter lists, register voters, and cast and count votes, let’s remember that at the center of the system are people — not software and hardware. It was this recognition, and the action we took in Ohio to ensure the people were prepared, that played pivotal roles in our tremendously successful election on Nov. 2.

J. Kenneth Blackwell is Ohio secretary of state.

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