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Reginald Fields
By Reginald Fields July 4, 2011

State Sen. Nina Turner says more than 14,000 voters cast ballots in the wrong precinct in 2008

An elections reform bill approved in June by the Ohio Senate had plenty of troubling new provisions for critics of the proposal, namely Democrats.

The bill contained a number of changes to Ohio’s voting and election procedures, some of which may lead to voter suppression, opponents of House Bill 194 argued before the Republican-controlled Senate passed the bill along party lines.  

For example, one provision added by the Ohio House barred poll workers from helping voters find their correct precinct for voting if they end up in the wrong place.

Current law mandates that poll workers direct voters to their correct voting location. That’s important because casting a ballot in the wrong place means your vote doesn’t count.

"Voting in the wrong precinct led to over 14,000 registered voters statewide to lose their vote in 2008,"  state Sen Nina Turner, a Cleveland Democrat, said during a floor speech on June 22.

"But I guess the loss of votes for some doesn’t matter," she sarcastically concluded, suggesting that Republicans were deliberately trying to suppress valid ballots in urban and impoverished areas of the state where mixing up precincts most often occurs.

It’s a powerful charge. And one can see Turner’s concern for those who are legitimately confused as to where they are suppose to vote. But Politifact Ohio wanted to know if there really were more than 14,000 ballots thrown out during the November 2008 elections — a presidential election, making it more significant — as she claimed.

First, it needs to be noted that bills are ever-changing before they become a finished product, and so, too, was this one. The House added the provision blocking poll workers from helping voters, an idea that was not supported by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted.  House Republicans said they were merely trying to protect poll workers and county boards of election from being legally liable for giving voters wrong information that might lead to a ballot not being counted.

But the time the bill received final passage, that provision was removed. So to, though, was another mandate.

"As the bill now stands there is no strict prohibition on them directing voters to their correct precinct and there’s no mandate that they do, either," explained Maggie Ostrowski, a spokeswoman for Husted.

That still concerns Turner and other opponents of the bill — which will soon become law — because it removes the mandate for poll workers to help.

But, what about the figure Turner quoted?

Turner cited information supplied by the secretary of state’s office. Former Secretary Jennifer Brunner compiled a report for the governor, legislature and state residents compiling statistics and analysis of how well the state’s election process worked. It is a routine report following major elections.

Provisional ballots are required when a person shows up to vote but does not have the documentation to verify their identity as a registered voter. Poll workers then allow the person to vote with a provisional ballot until their identity is proven and at that point the ballot will be counted.

According to the secretary’s report, there were 206,859 provisional ballots cast during the November 2008 election. But 39,989 of those ballots were not counted for a number of reasons, most commonly because the person casting the ballot was not registered to vote in the state of Ohio.

But the second most common reason the ballot was not counted was because while the person was properly registered to vote in Ohio, they cast the ballot in the wrong county or precinct. In all, 14,335 such ballots were not counted for this reason, according to the Brunner report.

Of those 14,000-plus ballots, 3,423 were cast in Cuyahoga County, home to Turner’s district and by far the county with the most uncounted provisional ballots during the November 2008 elections due to wrong place filings.

The irony here, given Turner’s fight to get poll workers to assist voters, is that the casting of provisional ballots in the wrong place is most often the fault of the poll workers themselves — not voters.

A voter cannot get a provisional ballot unless given one by a poll worker. Remember, under current law, the law in place in November 2008, poll workers were mandated to get voters to the right location even if they are voting provisionally. Ostrowski noted that it is not always poll workers fault because sometimes voters insist they are in the right location and demand a provisional ballot.

Regardless, data from the secretary of state’s office supports Turner’s claim. In the November 2008 election ballots from more than 14,000 registered voters weren’t counted because they were cast in the wrong place.

Her claim is accurate and there’s nothing significant missing. On the Truth-O-Meter, we rate Turner’s statement as True.

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State Sen. Nina Turner says more than 14,000 voters cast ballots in the wrong precinct in 2008

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