No Small Stuff (cont.): Error Leads Ohio County to Tell Some Voters “Don’t Vote”

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[Image courtesy of notbeinggoverned]

Athens County in southeastern Ohio is taking the unusual step of asking some of its voters not to vote on one local issue after voting machines were improperly programmed to offer that issue to all voters in the county. The Athens Messenger has more:

Electronic vote-counters in 33 of Athens County’s voting precincts have been reprogrammed not to count votes cast on county electric aggregation, a step taken after it was determined that the measure (Issue 2) should not have been on the ballot in those locations.

Also, signs will be posted in the 33 polling locations alerting voters that Issue 2 should not be on their ballots, and that votes on it will not be counted, according to Athens County Elections Director Debbie Quivey.

Electric aggregation would allow the county to negotiate lower rates for households and small businesses in the unincorporated areas of the county, but all ballots printed for the Nov. 5 election — including those in Athens, Nelsonville and the county’s eight incorporated villages — mistakenly include Issue 2.

Often when these problems occur, election officials get the blame – but in this case, it appears it was a problem with the authorizing legislation that no one caught until it was too late:

The error was discovered earlier this month, and Quivey and Deputy Elections Director Penny Brooks asked County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn for a legal opinion Oct. 17 on who should be voting on Issue 2.

Citing a section of Ohio law, Blackburn responded that “a resolution of the board of county commissioners should direct the board of elections to submit the question to the unincorporated area of the county.”

However, the resolution sent to the elections board by the commissioners in July did not specify that it applied to just the unincorporated areas.

Unlike the mooted Miami stadium vote I blogged about back in May, this wasn’t a situation where election officials could simply ignore the result because the question was invalid for everyone; here, only some voters are ineligible to vote on Issue 2. The solution, though unusual, allows the vote to proceed without the need to re-do ballots and seems to satisfy everyone concerned:

Quivey said the solution she and Brooks proposed — reprogramming the vote-counters in the 33 precincts and posting notices in the precincts — was OK’d by the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office …

Garry Hunter, Nelsonville’s city attorney, had questioned Issue 2 being on the ballot in Nelsonville and in the other incorporated communities.

“Nelsonville is satisfied with what the board of elections is doing,” Hunter said Monday.

And just in case you’re feeling bad for Athens voters not getting a chance to lower their electric bills? Don’t: “Although votes cast for Issue 2 in Athens won’t be counted, the city has its own aggregation measure on the ballot, Issue 3. Votes on Issue 3 will be counted.”

Kudos to the Athens County election office for catching the problem and finding a way to make it work for all voters countywide!

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