Paul Carroll, an 86-year-old World War II veteran who has lived in the same Ohio town for four decades, was denied a chance to vote in the state’s primary contests today after a poll worker denied his form of identification, a recently-acquired photo ID from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The poll worker rejected the ID because it did not contain an address, as required by Ohio law.
Carroll told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that he got the ID from the VA after his driver’s license expired because he doesn’t drive anymore:
“My beef is that I had to pay a driver to take me up there because I don’t walk so well and have to use this cane and now I can’t even vote,” said Paul Carroll, 86, who has lived in Aurora nearly 40 years, running his own business, Carroll Tire, until 1975.
“I had to stop driving, but I got the photo ID from the Veterans Affairs instead, just a month or so ago. You would think that would count for something. I went to war for this country, but now I can’t vote in this country.”
I was on a conference call with Sherrod Brown last night on voting rights, and Brown mentioned this story. It’s the second voting rights conference call I’ve been on with Sherrod Brown this year, and because Brown was a Secretary of State in Ohio and actually understands voting process as it applies to real live voters, the discussions are practical and worthwhile.
Brown’s focus is on the attempt to limit or end early voting, because early voting is a real success for voting enthusiasts. Early voting means access to voters who may not be able to get to the polls on election day. Early voting means that if a voter has not successfully jumped through the series of hoops that conservatives are setting up and is denied a ballot, the voter will find that out and have an opportunity to remedy that situation prior to election day.
We also discussed the many, many problems with provisional ballots. Provisional ballots were sold to the public as a back up to a regular ballot, but that’s a false guarantee. The rules for provisional balloting are complicated, voters and poll workers don’t understand the rules, and poll workers cannot and do not apply the rules consistently.
If you’d like to know how bad the provisional balloting situation is on the ground, this is a federal opinion that came out of a disputed judicial election in Ohio recently (pdf).
Read it and weep:
First, 27 provisional ballots that were cast at the Board’s office, but in the wrong precinct. The Board determined that the poll worker erred in giving the voter the incorrect ballot.
Second, 686 provisional ballots that were found to include contradictory information regarding whether the voter provided identification. The Board determined that the poll worker erred in indicating that further information was required.
Third, 13 provisional ballots that had either no voter signature or only a partial name or no printed name in the affirmation. The Board determined that the poll worker erred in requiring the voter to vote a provisional ballot.
Fourth, 4 provisional ballots in which the ballots themselves were from the wrong precinct but the envelopes were from the correct precinct. The Board concluded that poll-worker error was responsible for this defect.
Voters who should have been given regular ballots were given provisional ballots. Provisional ballots were accepted in the wrong precinct. Poll workers and voters had little or no understanding of the complicated provisional balloting process, a process that in Ohio can involve 9 steps. We know this because they told us, but we know this only because this was a close election, and poll workers and voters were called to testify. The provisional balloting process was chaos. Poll workers admitted it, and voters confirmed it.
Blithely directing voters to stop complaining and accept a provisional ballot is not a solution to the voting restrictions conservatives are setting up all over the country. A provisional ballot is not a worthwhile guarantee or reliable back up to a regular ballot. It’s a false assurance.
In this judicial election in Ohio, voters left the polling place believing they had voted, and believing that their vote would be counted. Now, due to poll worker error and mass confusion regarding provisional ballots, their vote may or may not be counted. Voters should know that the provisional balloting process has multiple steps, many more than with a standard ballot, and voters should know that at each step poll worker error or unacceptable individual poll worker discretion can enter the process. We know that because poll workers and voters told us all about it in this case in Ohio.
Before we assure voters we’re protecting their rights with provisional ballots, perhaps we should look on the ground in an actual close election and see if what we’re telling them about the reliability and consistency of the provisional balloting process is true. If it isn’t true, and it certainly wasn’t true in this 2010 election in Ohio, voters shouldn’t rely on it.