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Voter intimidation in Ohio? Not that I could see

October 28, 2012|By Doyle McManus
  • A voter drops her ballot into the ballot box during early voting in Cleveland.
A voter drops her ballot into the ballot box during early voting in Cleveland. (Olivier Douliery / Abaca…)

Columbus, Ohio —

In my column on Sunday, I reported on the scene at one of Ohio’s early voting sites, a shopping center in Columbus: busloads of voters, noisy volunteers in the parking lot and visits from politicians trying to drum up enthusiasm.

But here’s something that isn’t happening on any discernible scale: Voter intimidation.

Before early voting began in Ohio on Oct. 2, there were fears that conservative groups would try to challenge voters who arrived at the polls without photo identification, even though photo ID isn’t required for voters in Ohio.    

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A local affiliate of True the Vote, the national organization devoted to preventing voter fraud, was recruiting volunteers in the Buckeye State. And an anonymous donor posted dozens of billboards in African American neighborhoods warning “Voter Fraud is a Felony!” (After public complaints, the owner of the billboards, Clear Channel Outdoor, invoked a policy against anonymous advertisements and took them down.)

Democratic state senators sent a preemptive letter to Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, charging that True the Vote’s plans to post observers at polling places could lead to “criminal interference with the right to vote.” True the Vote denied the charge, and Husted said he’d make sure nothing untoward happened.

So I was curious to see the situation on the ground. At Franklin County’s early voting site in a former Kohl’s department store at Morse Crossing, the Board of Elections has set aside a space for observers -- Democratic, Republican and other, including True the Vote. The observers stand behind a crowd-control belt, like the ones that mark security lines at airports, near the desk where voters present their identification. They have a clear but not close view of the polling station’s 100 voting machines.

The observer from True the Vote turned out to be a courteous, no-nonsense lady in a pink seersucker blouse and gray slacks. She said she was Carolyn Pham, 62, a retired small businesswoman with 12 years of experience as a Republican poll watcher before she joined True the Vote.

Pham said she worries that Ohio’s voter registration procedures are too loose. “There could be people who are noncitizens who are voting,” she said. “All you need is a driver’s license, and it’s not hard to get a driver’s license.” (Ohio requires would-be voters to affirm that they are citizens and to provide a driver’s license or Social Security number when they register.)

But it’s impossible to challenge the validity of a voter’s registration at the polling site, she noted. Instead, she was watching for obvious irregularities: voters carrying clearly false identification, for example, or voters receiving unauthorized assistance. If she saw anything wrong, the law doesn’t allow her to intervene directly, but it does allow her to report the problem to Board of Elections officials on the spot.

“My main concern is not being able to get close enough to the machines to see what’s going on,” she said.

Had she seen anything worth reporting? “No,” she said, “but I’ve only been here two days.”

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Follow Doyle McManus on Twitter @DoyleMcManus

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