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Report: Ohio Ranks Poorly on Election Performance

Pew Center ranks Ohio low on absentee and provisional ballot management.

Report: Ohio Ranks Poorly on Election Performance

A new national report by the PEW Charitable Trusts ranking state-by-state elections performance puts Ohio close to the bottom of the 50 states.

The PEW Elections Performance Index measures the quality of election administrations by analyzing 17 indicators, ranging from voter turnout to number of rejected absentee ballots, from the 2008 and 2010 elections.

Ohio ranked above only 11 other states in overall performance for those two election cycles, according to the report, which was released Feb. 5.

Erik Heidemann, an assistant professor of political science at Kent State University, said he wasn't surprised to see Ohio rank so low on the PEW report.

"We just have this political culture here in Ohio that politics is a marketplace and that political parties are the firms that are involved in the marketplace," Heidemann said. "Elections in Ohio just typically have been viewed as a political bludgeon rather than a large poll to decide who should run the government."

Heidemann said the bipartisan nature of how Ohio's 88 county boards of elections make local elections operations decisions means those votes often end up deadlocked on issues that ultimately are decided by the Ohio Secretary of State — an inherently partisan position — where whichever party holds the office can make decisions that favor one party over the other.

The PEW report highlights Ohio's large number of provisional and absentee ballots that were both cast and rejected in 2008 and 2010.

State Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D-Kent) called Ohio's performance on provisional ballots, where the state ranked in the bottom six states on that indicator, terrible. 

"Too many Ohioans are forced to cast provisional ballots and too many Ohioans’ ballots are thrown out over technical errors not even caused by the voter," Clyde said.

Heidemann pointed to the fact Ohio voters can't register to vote online — an indicator not included in the PEW report — as another reason Ohio's election process pales in comparison to states ranked in the top 10 of the report.

"As important as this state is to presidential elections, we have a long ways to go before we get it right," he said. "There just wasn’t as much controversy this year because (President Barack) Obama won by a sufficient amount to remove any doubt he legitimately won this state.

"But had it been a lot closer, had it been a few thousand votes instead of a couple hundred thousand votes, then I think we would be talking about this a lot more and how inconsistently laws are applied from county to county and even within counties from precinct to precinct," Heidemann said. 

Both Clyde and Heidemann agreed it's going to take a fairly comprehensive, bipartisan overhaul of Ohio's elections process to see an improvement on future reports like the PEW Elections Performance Index.

"The next Florida, 2000-style disaster is just around the corner … unless we really clean up our system," Heidemann said.

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