That’s unlikely, as Rowland’s piece eventually acknowledges. But if it does, the head of the state association of election officials tells him, “things will get ugly.” The official adds: “If it all comes down to Ohio, the nation will expect us to have a perfect election, and that simply isn’t going to happen. We can have a good election, or even a great election, but it won’t be 100 percent perfect.”
The Dayton Daily News’s Jackie Borchardt took a more measured approach in a Thursday story that led with Secretary of State Jon Husted’s prediction that the outcome of the presidential race will be known the day after the election. That will depend on how close the vote is, but also on how many provisional ballots are cast—and Husted makes his case that a cleaning up of the voter rolls “has qualified tens of thousands of voters to vote a regular ballot.” (It has also come with at least small glitches, The Plain Dealer’s Joe Guillen reported Tuesday.)
Of course, the press isn’t the only watchdog here—both parties are preparing to dispatch droves of “observers” to the polls on Election Day, many of whom are lawyers. Reporters here are experienced in covering litigation over the ballot box—the legal contest over early voting played out for months—and The Plain Dealer’s Sabrina Eaton took a look at the preparations of election lawyers in a report Wednesday.
Some of the most interesting material in Eaton’s story was actually about what the state’s lawyers are doing:
The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s office is also lawyering up for Election Day. A spokeswoman said eight of its lawyers and four of its investigators would be assigned to handle election-related matters in Cuyahoga County, and that one of its lawyers would be in Columbus.
David Lambert, who heads the civil division of the prosecutor’s office, said the office will try to ensure that polls open on time to avoid complaints from advocacy groups that insist that the polls stay open late to compensate for significant opening delays.
The office is also working to educate poll workers on the mechanics of provisional voting, voter ID laws, and bilingual balloting. Lambert says 45 observers from the Department of Justice will be on hand to monitor the county’s compliance with civil rights laws.
In the past, the county has had issues like long lines or polling places running out of ballots that have led to claims that voters’ rights were breached.
“What they do in that case is to ask a federal judge to order one or more precincts to stay open,” said Lambert. “We try to limit the reach of that unless it really is a critical failure, which has never really happened.”
Avoiding “critical failure” is good, of course. But as one official told the Dispatch, this is not going to be a perfect election. Just how imperfect it may be remains to be seen, but for Ohio, and the nation, the results could mean everything. That makes it more important than ever for all of these observers—especially those in the Ohio press—to keep close watch on the workings of the electoral machinery, and help protect every citizen’s right to vote.
Note: Absentee and provisional ballots aren’t the only issue to keep an eye on, of course—The Plain Dealer’s Brandon Blackwell reports Friday night that nine polling stations in Cuyahoga County are still without power in Sandy’s wake, and more than a dozen others couldn’t be reached by phone. Election officials say power should be back on by Monday night, Tuesday’s voting won’t be affected—but talk of portable generators and flashlight supplies at polling stations doesn’t entirely inspire confidence that all will go smoothly. This is a story worth watching.