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Tea party groups work to remove names from Ohio voter rolls

Activists say they're challenging some names to ensure 'election integrity.' Others say it's an effort to suppress the votes of likely Obama supporters.

September 26, 2012|By Michael Finnegan, Los Angeles Times

"We really aren't trying to challenge people's right to vote," Siegel said.

But Siegel signed 422 "Challenge of Right of Person to Vote" forms and submitted them to Hamilton County's elections board in July. She sought to remove the names from the voter rolls based on a Postal Service change-of-address registry. Siegel withdrew the challenges when the state declared the postal registry to be insufficient grounds to challenge voting rights.

Marlene Hess Kocher, another leader of the Ohio project, filed 420 challenges in Hamilton County over the last month. Kocher alleged that eight members of an African American family, the Sharps, were registered to vote at a vacant lot in Lockland, just outside Cincinnati.

"You are hereby notified that your right to vote has been challenged," letters from county elections officials told each of the Sharps.

"Does this look like a vacant lot?" Teresa Sharp, 53, asked one recent afternoon as she and a friend sat on canvas chairs outside the four-bedroom house where the family has lived since the 1980s.

"People went through a lot just to have women allowed to vote, and then to have black people allowed to vote. So when they sent me that letter, I'm like, OK, they must know I'm black. And on top of that, my whole family — which really made me angry."

Sharp confronted Kocher at an elections board hearing. Kocher, who displays signs on her front lawn for the Cincinnati Tea Party and Republican congressional candidates, told the board she mistakenly relied on "vacant lot misinformation" that she found on the county auditor's website. She apologized to Sharp.

"I have no intention of preventing somebody from voting," Kocher said. "I'm just raising it as a questionable issue."

Jon Husted, the Republican secretary of state, said in an interview that the Sharp case undercut the tea party effort.

"When you cry wolf, and there's no wolf," he said, "you undermine your credibility, and you have unjustly inconvenienced a legally registered voter, and that can border on voter intimidation."

Last week, Kocher and Denise Mayer, another leader of the Ohio project, attended a Cincinnati Tea Party dinner of several hundred people. "There's a lot of ways to get involved with keeping our elections fair and honest, and I'm asking for you to get involved," Mayer told the crowd in a pitch to recruit poll workers.

Moments later, Husted addressed the gathering. Husted, who is fighting the Obama campaign's lawsuit to restore early voting on the weekend before the election, noted that Ohio for the first time has sent vote-by-mail applications to every voter in the state and allowed a total of 230 hours of early voting in the five weeks before the election.

"I get a little frustrated when I hear some folks use terms like 'Jim Crow' and 'voter suppression' and 'disenfranchisement' when it comes to Ohio elections," Husted told the tea party members. "No responsible person can hear about how easy it is to vote in Ohio and think that it's hard to vote in Ohio, wouldn't you say?" The crowd applauded.

Melanie Mason in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.

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