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Some Ohio Elections Boards Work Overtime to Verify Signatures

Some county elections boards have been working overtime to validate the signatures on ballot initiative petitions. Employees from other Franklin County departments have pitched in to verify some half-million signatures this year. State law requires that the signatures on statewide petitions be verified at the county level.

The Franklin County Elections Board's Lillian Williams demonstrates what 70 employees have just completed over the last three weeks. Working from 7 in the morning until 9:30 at night, they took the names from petitions and one by one compared them to the county's records.

"I'm looking at the name and the signature," Williams says. "This one has a signature and a print line which makes it nice. So I can look her up by her name and I'm comparing the street and number and they match. So I'm selecting the option to validate it."

Williams says that if a signature is found to be invalid, the screener checks off the reason on the computer page.

"Out of county, not registered, duplicate voter, circulator, illegible, incomplete, not genuine, no date..."

Franklin County elections workers have been sorting through 5 initiatives. The issues, that include smoking, the minimum wage, worker's compensation and slot machines, have been making their way toward the November ballot. Earlier this week Secretary of State Ken Blackwell told the Learn and Earn committee that it had fallen short getting the required number of signatures for its expanded gambling proposal. Though the group says it collected around 600,000 signatures statewide, half were found to be invalid. Director of the Franklin County Board of Elections Matt Damschroder says that finding so many invalid signatures is not unusual.

"It's not surprising that when you submit 600,000 signatures that only half or slightly more than half are going to be valid," Damschroder says. A person circulating a petition might cause the entire document to be invalidated according to Damschroder. The circulator may have failed to certify that he or she witnessed the signatures, for example. But more commonly there are a host of problems with the signers themselves.

"Often the biggest problem is that the voter has moved and failed to change their address with the board of elections," he says. "If they put their new address on the petition and the board of elections only has their old that will invalidate their signature. Then there are other things like illegible handwriting; you just can't discern anything in order to check."

But a person must be a registered voter in order to have his or her signature count. The people whose signatures are rejected never know it, says Damschroder.

"The Board of Elections does not communicate with the voter to determine whether the signature was counted. It's a massive process statewide and it would be difficult to communicate - particularly if we don't have them in our computer system."

Likewise there's no mechanism where a signer can remove his or her name from a petition. Some people say they were misled by circulators of the Learn and Earn's proposal.

The Board of Election's Matt Damschroder says Franklin County has incurred an additional $100,000 in personnel expenses to check 300,000 signatures during the past 3 weeks. The Summit County board of elections in Akron says similar expenses are partly to blame for hindering their preparations for the November elections. Damschroder says this season's numerous initiatives foreshadow a trend where various factions are taking issues directly to the ballot.