MAKING VOTES COUNT
Playing With the Election Rules
of the lessons of the election mess in Florida in 2000 was that a
secretary of state can deprive a large number of people of the right to
vote by small manipulations of the rules. This year in Ohio and
Colorado, two key battlegrounds, the secretaries of state have been
interpreting the rules in ways that could prevent thousands of eligible
Americans from voting. In both states, the courts should step in.
weeks before the deadline to register, Kenneth Blackwell, Ohio's
secretary of state, instructed the state's county boards of election to
reject registrations on paper of less than 80-pound stock - the sort
used for paperback-book covers and postcards, compared with the
20-to-24-pound stock in everyday use. He said he was concerned about
forms' being mailed without envelopes and mangled by postal equipment.
But the directive applied to all registration forms, even those sent in
an envelope or delivered by hand. Mr. Blackwell, a Republican, acted in
the midst of an unprecedented state voter registration drive, which is
signing up far more Democrats than Republicans.
criticism, Mr. Blackwell has backed off. Earlier this week, his office
said it would not be the "paper police," but said it was not
withdrawing the directive. Yesterday, it said he had advised county
boards to accept registrations on any paper. But the advisory is worded
so inartfully that it could create confusion. And it is unclear how
many registrations may have already been rejected. The burden is now on
Mr. Blackwell to ensure that counties have not rejected valid
Mr. Blackwell's second directive tells local
elections officials to follow a bad policy Ohio adopted on provisional
ballots. This is the first presidential election in which every voter
whose eligibility is in doubt has the right to cast a ballot and to
have the vote's validity verified later. But Ohio and some other states
have tried to gut this guarantee by not counting provisional ballots
cast in the wrong polling places. There is no reason to do that.
rule could void many votes. There will be a flood of first-time voters
this year, who may not know where to vote. And some polling places have
been changed by redistricting. Mr. Blackwell says poll workers should
help voters call an elections hot line to find out where to go. But
these hot lines are often busy on Election Day. Poor people and members
of minorities, who move more often than most voters, are likely to be
most affected. Ohio Democrats, who expect to do well among these
groups, are fighting the rule in court.
In Colorado, Secretary of
State Donetta Davidson, also a Republican, has issued a bizarre ruling
of her own on this issue. She will allow provisional ballots cast at
the wrong polling places to count for only the presidential race. The
Senate race in Colorado, among the closest in the nation, could
determine control of the Senate, and there is no reason all valid
provisional ballots should not count in this race or for statewide
ballot propositions. Colorado Common Cause is challenging Ms.
Davidson's rule, but she should not need a court to tell her to count
Democrats say these rulings are all attempts to
disqualify thousands of Democratic votes. Whatever the motivation, they
threaten to disenfranchise voters. They have no place in our democracy.
Making Votes Count: Editorials in this series remain online at nytimes.com/makingvotescount.