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Summit absentee ballots delayed
Errors mean all 22,000 have to be printed again before they can be sent
By Lisa A. Abraham, Beacon Journal staff writer
October 20, 2006

The 22,000 Summit County residents who are waiting for their absentee ballots to arrive in the mail will be waiting a while longer.

When the ballots arrived at the Summit County Board of Elections on Thursday, staff members discovered the second page was fraught with typographical errors.

Words are running together and their letters are spaced incorrectly, making the ballot hard to read, said board Deputy Director Marijean Donofrio.

None of the ballots were put in the mail, but before the mistakes were discovered about 10 were used for voters who came to the board to cast their ballots in person, she said. ``This is a further delay. We're sitting on 22,000-plus applications,'' Donofrio said.

In anticipation of the ballots arriving from the printer, the board had extra workers on hand Thursday beginning at 6 a.m. to start stuffing absentee ballots into envelopes to get them in the mail. ``We were ready,'' Donofrio said.

The board is waiting now on word from Election Systems & Software, maker of the county's optical-scan voting machines, about what will happen next. The ballots were printed by Miami Printing in Cincinnati one of two printers that ES & S has certified to print ballots for their machines. The other is Dayton Legal Blank, which is the printer previously used by Summit County.

Donofrio said she wants the ballot page to be reprinted. ``Another election, another problem,'' she said.

ES & S spokeswoman Jill Friedman-Wilson said the company was trying to determine what caused the printing problem, but would be reprinting the faulty ballot page regardless.

``We are going to be reprinting the ballots to make sure they would be mailed by Saturday,'' she said.

This is the first year the county is using its optical-scan voting equipment. In the May primary, there were ongoing problems with hundreds of faulty memory cards, which store vote tabulations in the ballot scanners.

Absentee ballots are identical to the ballots used at the polls but bear a special marking designating them as absentee. They are printed first and shipped to the county ahead of the regular ballots so that they can be mailed out to voters who ask to vote absentee.

Donofrio said she had no way of knowing whether the mistakes were on the poll ballots as well, but noted there are still three weeks before the election for the poll ballots to be reprinted if necessary.

``We're checking to see if the poll ballots are completed,'' she said.

By law, Ohioans must be able to start voting absentee by 35 days before the election. The county missed that deadline, because it was waiting on the Ohio secretary of state's office to break a tie vote of the board regarding the wording of a proposed county charter amendment. Until that issue was decided, it could not be put on the ballot and voting could not begin.

Once that matter was decided, the staff was able to begin printing individual ballots at the board for voters who come in to vote. However, the board's ballot printers are not capable of producing the large number of absentee ballots needed to fill the mail requests.

Absentee ballot requests have increased dramatically this year, which is being attributed in part to Ohio's new law that allows absentee voting for any reason.

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