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GOP misfiled some voter challenges, board says
The Columbus Dispatch. October 24, 2004. By Robert Vitale

Dozens of Republican challenges to newly registered voters in Franklin County will be tossed out because they were not properly filed, a local elections official said yesterday.

An initial review of 50 challenge forms filed by GOP activists shows 40 with an incorrect ward or precinct listed for the voter, said Michael Hackett, deputy director of the Franklin County Board of Elections. He said such mistakes will nullify requests to have people removed from the list of eligible voters.

"This is the first time in my memory that challenges to our voter-registration file have been made prior to an election, and no, I?m not very happy about it," said Hackett, a Democrat. "It is clearly an attempt to suppress voting."

The Ohio Republican Party on Friday challenged 4,219 voters in Franklin County and another 31,208 throughout Ohio. The GOP sent letters to all Ohioans who registered between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31, and challenged those whose letters were returned.

Elections Director Matthew Damschroder, a Republican, said his staff will go through all Franklin County challenge forms today. Letters will go out Monday to those for whom a valid challenge remains, and hearings before the four-member Franklin County Board of Elections are scheduled for Thursday.

Both the board and its day-today leadership are split evenly between Republicans and Democrats.

Voters whose eligibility is challenged need to prove Thursday that they?re registered at their correct address. If they don?t show up, elections board members can decide whether to keep them on the rolls.

Franklin County Republican Chairman Doug Preisse said his party?s challenges of voters? eligibility is not an attempt to deny legitimately registered people the right to cast a ballot.

"It?s an attempt to discern whether there?s widespread voter fraud," he said. "It?s an attempt to secure a safe and fair election."

In Cuyahoga County, where the largest number of challenges were filed, officials also have found problems. In a "really limited" review of some of the 17,717 challenges there, officials found a number with outdated addresses, said Michael Vu, director of the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections.

Challenges there will be heard Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

In Franklin County, beyond the challenges with incorrect information, it appears Republicans included some legitimately registered voters, including members of the military.

Lisa Potts, a longtime Marine currently stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C., is registered to vote from her mother?s address in Westerville. She already has received her absentee ballot.

She said she was surprised yesterday to hear her eligibility to vote had been challenged, "especially since I?m a Republican" and also because service members often keep a "house of record" in their hometowns.

"I pay taxes to the state of Ohio every year," said Potts, 42, a 1980 graduate of Westerville South High School who has been a Marine for 24 years.

The letter Republicans tried to send to Raven Shaffer, 21, probably was returned unopened because the family no longer receives mail at its Brown Township home, said her father, Harry. He has used a post-office box for the past couple of years, he said, after the family?s mailbox was on the losing end of repeated collisions with delivery trucks and motorists.

Harry Shaffer, a registered Democrat, called the challenges "an attempt to get as many Democrats off the rolls as they can."

Preisse said he expects the elections board to look at challenges on a case-by-case basis to determine whether voters are legitimately registered. In Potts? case, he said, "It sounds to me there?s ample evidence" that she has a right to vote.

He pointed to the fact that she?s a registered Republican as proof his party wasn?t targeting Democrats for its voter-eligibility challenges.

Hackett, however, said challenges of people in the armed services are "very disturbing."

"Here we have people who are making our world safer . . . and (the GOP) has nerve enough to file a challenge against these folks," he said.

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