By Howard Wilkinson â€¢ Cincinnati Enquirer
It could be weeks, or even months, before the issue of who was elected Nov. 2 to a vacant Hamilton County Juvenile Court judgeship is decided, while a legal tug of war grinds on over which provisional ballots should be counted.
Already the dispute has seen the unusual step of a federal judge – U.S. District Court Judge Susan Dlott – stepping into a state-run election, ordering the Hamilton County Board of Elections to re-examine 849 provisional ballots that were cast around the county Nov. 2 and deemed by county election officials to be invalid under Ohio election law.
County election officials are not sure how long such an investigation would take.
Dlott’s decision in the suit brought Monday by Democratic candidate Tracie Hunter – who ended up trailing Republican John Williams by 23 votes out of nearly 230,000 cast – is likely to end up in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
At issue is a long-standing principle that a voter must cast a ballot in his or her precinct to have it counted.
In this case, there were 284 voters who, on election day, went to the correct polling place but cast provisional ballots at the wrong precinct table.
Hunter’s lawsuit asked that the board of elections determine whether or not poll workers erred in not sending those voters to the proper precinct table. If they didn’t redirect voters, those votes should be counted, Hunter’s lawsuit said, and Democrats on the board of elections agree.
But Williams and the Republicans on the board of election insist that election officials have already done everything required by the law to determine if there was poll worker error and that if Hunter wants to contest the results of the election, she should do so in state court, not federal court.
“I have seen no evidence of staff members failing to fulfill their responsibilities,” said Hamilton County GOP chairman Alex Triantafilou, who is also chairman of the elections board.
But Democrats on the board argue that the fact that there were many polling places where multiple provisional votes ended up being rejected – New Life Temple Church in Madisonville, Lee Chapel AME Church in Evanston, God’s Bible School College in Over-the-Rhine – indicates that the possibility of poll worker error exists and should be investigated.
“What we are being asked to do (by Dlott) is something we should have been doing all along,” said Democratic board member Caleb Faux.
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