Otherwise valid provisional ballots cast at the wrong precincts in Ohio, through no fault of the voters, must be counted, according to a ruling issued by a federal judge on Monday.
The decision, which otherwise seems like common sense, comes in the wake of tens of thousands of provisional ballots going uncounted after the 2008 Presidential election thanks to a provision in Ohio law which discards such ballots, even in the case where a poll worker has improperly instructed a voter to cast his or her ballot in the wrong place.
The ruling is a defeat for Ohio's Republican Sec. of State who, after working towards inclusiveness and voting rights earlier in his tenure, seems to have taken a hard right turn in many of his decisions of late, as the Presidential Election nears.
As we noted last month, an investigative report by the Cincinnati Enquirer's Barry M. Horstman found that some 40,000 provisional ballots cast in the 2008 general election were never tallied, even though many of them were cast in the right polling place, but at the wrong "precinct" table, as precincts have been combined into the same building over the years in the Buckeye State.
A voter might line up to vote at the wrong table/precinct, for example, only to be told they weren't found on that precinct's voter rolls and, rather than be directed by the poll worker to the correct "precinct", instructed to cast a provisional ballot at that table instead. That vote, before Monday's ruling, under existing Ohio law, would go uncounted. Many of those provisional ballots were cast in predominantly Democratic-leaning counties.
The Enquirer warned in their report last month that "tens of thousands of ballots are likely to be disqualified" once again in the key swing-state, during the 2012 Presidential election unless the provision was changed, as recommended by state election officials after the 2008 election.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Algenon L. Marbley, citing Bush v. Gore of all things, ruled against Ohio Sec. of State Jon Husted (R), whose spokesman responded: "We respectfully disagree with the judge's ruling and will likely appeal."
Marbley found that Husted's belief that such ballots should not be counted "belies a fundamentally misguided view that the state need not protect the right to vote of individuals who, for any number of reasons, are required to cast a provisional ballot"...