Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Blackwell says no problem

Ohio official says election went smoothly
JOHN McCARTHY
Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio - The state's election chief told lawmakers at a sometimes-testy congressional hearing Monday that Ohio's presidential election went as smoothly as possible, given the resources available and some last-minute interpretations by state and federal courts.

Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell testified before members of the U.S. House Administration Committee during a special hearing at the Ohio Statehouse. Members of the committee peppered Blackwell with questions about provisional ballots, long voting lines and other issues in the election that gave President Bush the 20 electoral votes he needed to capture re-election.

His appearance came more than a month after he failed to appear before the committee at a hearing in Washington.

U.S. Rep. Bob Ney, an Ohio Republican and the committee's chairman, took Blackwell's absence as a snub, especially since Blackwell was in Washington the same day to lead a meeting of the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute.

Blackwell, also a Republican, said he couldn't appear at Ney's hearing because of the previously scheduled institute meeting. Florida Secretary of State Glenda Hood, another Republican, also did not appear, citing a previous commitment in her state.

The exchanges Monday became heated at times, especially between Blackwell and Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, a Cleveland Democrat who is not a committee member but sat in with the panel.

Tubbs Jones questioned Blackwell about a telephone message delivered to thousands of voters just before the election to make sure they voted in the correct precinct, especially if they had not changed their registration and needed a provisional ballot. Tubbs Jones wondered why he didn't say in the message that voters had the option to use provisional ballots at their local boards of elections.

Blackwell said, "It worked," several times, his voice rising as Tubbs Jones continued the question. Ohio ranked fourth nationwide in the number of provisional ballots that were validated. Ten days before the election, a judge upheld Blackwell's directive that voters must cast provisional ballots in the correct precinct.

Blackwell also said directives he issued on provisional ballots and voter registration cards that led to complaints about their timeliness were forced by court rulings made just weeks or days before the election.

Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald of California, the committee's ranking Democrat, asked Blackwell several questions about alleged irregularities, including voters getting calls telling them the election was the day after Nov. 2 and voting machine misallocation by elections officials.

Blackwell responded that he know of no such calls from elections officials and that to rig the machine allotment to favor Bush, poll workers of both parties would have had to work together, Blackwell said.

"It would have taken the collusion of 176 Democratic leaders. It's silly on its face to think there was some kind of bipartisan conspiracy," Blackwell said.

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