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Special Series Part 2: Franklin Co. Elections: Prelude to November Balloting

Part 2 of 2.

Franklin County elections officials say the March 4th primary went smoothly with just a few glitches here and there. In spite of complaints from dissatisfied voters, the primary proved to be a prelude to the presidential election in November.

It's the morning of the March 4th primary. At the county board of elections receptionists are assisting walk-in voters and taking a flood of phone calls at the same time.

"Well that's where you go vote. Go upstairs it's in the back where the auditorium is. Okay?"

People are voting on electronic machines, only a few on paper ballots. There are 534 precincts county-wide in the primary. And, not unexpectedly, a few complaints. Pamela Boisson says she's voted in other states and never had a problem.

"I've voted all my life and I've voted here in Columbus and we cannot believe that it's so difficult," Boisson says. "It's ridiculous what they put people through."

Boissen says that the rear doors at her polling location, a school, were locked and that there were no directions, or any other indications that voting was taking place in the building. She delivered a handwritten complaint to an elections employee downtown.

"How many other people were turned away and didn't have the time and we're missing those votes? So I hope our ballots are going to be counted. I hope nothing gets thrown out or misplaced."The lack of voter confidence has been a growing concern in Columbus since the long lines of 2004. Terri Enns, an elections expert at Ohio State University says Ohio's Secretary of State has tried to help alleviate concerns by giving voters a choice.

"What Secretary of State Brunner has done is, following a study, decided that some people would probably be more comfortable with paper ballots," Enns says. "And so she has said as a back-up system we need to have paper ballots available. Now you've got to remember that all of the voting problems we've had in the past were ballot stuffing problems which involved paper. So paper is not the cause of the problem nor the solution to the problem; it's how the technology gets used and how the election is administered."

This is the first election administered by Dennis White, who the board promoted to the director's position three days before the primary. In the middle of a busy balloting day, he stopped at his office for a moment to monitor email.

"A lot of people communicate with me here by email; the staff, the secretary of state, people finding things going on that we need to pay attention to," White says.

"80,000 people had already returned paper ballots because they voted early. 20,000 people will vote provisionally which also requires a paper ballot. But surprisingly only 810 people would request a paper ballot on Primary Election Day.

At the Board of Elections warehouse on the Southeast side, a phone bank fields more questions and complaints. White says one is from a woman who cannot reach her precinct poll.

"They're voting in a high school and the high school has some sort of event going on and so much traffic the voters can't get through there. We don't have any control over the school's event there tonight."

Elections employees are waiting here to gather polling equipment from designated workers after the polls close White says.

"This is where all the machines are stored, set-up, and this is where all the poll workers will come in tonight. And this room over here where we'll do our central count.

Manager of Election Operations, Karen Cotton, says Franklin Co. deputies will route cars and vans in a massive drive-thru operation.

"That person comes to our board of elections warehouse, then we take out the materials they pass us the materials as they drive through that facility that we need to tabulate the results on election night; anything that we need to tabulate the unofficial results," Cotton says.

The results will be feed into the county's central data base where they'll be released to the public.

It's now 7:30 p.m. At the Board of Elections downtown two elections employees, one Democrat, one Republican, open each of the touch screen voting machines. They print out a paper tally, remove a flash card memory.

And the counting is on.