October 31, 2012
COLUMBUS — A federal appeals court on Wednesday temporarily halted an attempt by voter advocates to expand the conditions under which provisional ballots are counted in the swing state of Ohio.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati put on hold a lower court’s ruling that said the state must count provisional ballots cast not just in the wrong precinct but in the wrong polling location altogether.
The ballots at issue are dubbed “wrong church, wrong pew,” referring to both a mistaken polling place and a mistaken precinct.
A lawyer for a union that sued over the issue said as many as 8,000 voters cast such ballots in 2008.
Some polling places contain voting machines for several precincts. Voters in the right building but voting in the wrong precinct are labeled “right church, wrong pew.” Ohio has been ordered to count those.
But the state had opposed the expansion of counting ballots at wrong polling locations, saying it could create Election Day chaos.
The three-judge appeals panel agreed, saying the lower court’s ruling would result in “interference with orderly election administration and greater confusion among poll workers and voters.”
The appeals court decision delays an Oct. 24 ruling by Columbus federal Judge Algenon Marbley, who said he based his decision on the rationale that such problems arise because of mistakes by poll workers.
But the appeals court questioned whether such ballots at the wrong locations should be counted.
“Though voters must rely heavily on poll workers to direct them to the proper precinct in a multi-precinct voting place, they are not as dependent on poll workers to identify their correct polling place,” the appeal court concluded.
The decision was an elections victory for Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, who had appealed Marbley’s ruling. It followed an Oct. 16 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in which it refused a request by Husted and Ohio’s attorney general to get involved in a dispute over early voting.
The move by the high court cleared the way for Ohio voters to cast such ballots, giving Democrats and President Barack Obama’s campaign a victory three weeks before the election.