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Joe “the Plumber” Wurzelbacker? Wurzebacher? Wurzelbacher? PDF  | Print |  Email
By Maggie Barron, Brennan Center for Justice   
October 16, 2008
This article was posted at the Brennan Center's Blog and is reposted here with permission.

Joe the Plumber appeared in last night's debate as a symbol of Ohio's "everyman." He is also now a symbol of the "everyman" whose name is misspelled in government databases. Or, for voter-fraud enthusiasts, an example of yet another type of voter who should be challenged or removed from the rolls.

After his debut on the national stage as a skeptical swing voter, reporters checking up on Joe could not find his voter registration record. That's because his last name, Wurzelbacher, is misspelled in state databases.

According to the latest ruling from Ohio, the 200,000 newly registered voters whose names do not match government databases will have their names turned over to local election officials, where they will be at risk of being illegally removed from registration lists, or challenged at the polls on Election Day.

These 200,000 voters make up one third of all of Ohio's new registrations since January.

Normally, when new registrants' information does not match, the state takes further steps to verify them and correct errors. This ruling bypasses that process and delivers lists of mis-matches directly to local elections offices. According to today's New York Times, "[o]nce the local officials have the names, they may require these voters to cast provisional ballots rather than regular ones, and they may ask partisan poll workers to challenge these voters on Election Day."

Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner has filed an emergency appeal to the Supreme Court.

Fortunately, Joe has voted before, so his registration appears not to be at risk. But for the 200,000 others, these data-entry errors could mean they may face major challenges on Election Day.
New Directive to Increase Protection for Ohio Voters From Partisan Voter Caging PDF  | Print |  Email
By ProjectVote   
September 08, 2008
In response to strong concerns expressed by Project Vote about the potential for partisan abuse of Ohio’s vague voter challenger laws, Ohio’s Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner took an important step to clarify the law and protect Ohio voters from partisan voter caging. In a directive issued on Friday to all Ohio Elections Boards, the secretary makes it clear that Ohio voters must be afforded notice and due process before their right to vote is challenged, and that returned mail alone can not be used as a partisan tool to suppress the vote in this presidential election year.

The directive helps restore basic rights that the Ohio legislature took away in a controversial series of voter challenge laws, passed in 2006, which required county boards of election to send non-forwardable mailings to each registered voter 60 days before the election. Names on the lists of returned or undeliverable notice letters could be accessed by partisan operatives through public records laws to create ready-made “voter caging” lists. Project Vote had expressed concerns that up to 600,000 eligible voters—including a disproportionate number of minorities and youths—could be unlawfully stricken from the voter rolls based solely on problems with the mail.
Ohio Secretary of State Report on March Primary Elections PDF  | Print |  Email
By Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner   
June 18, 2008
Download the Full Report

Executive Summary

The administration of elections in 2008 showed vast improvement from the 2004 presidential primary election. The first directive issued by this administration in February 2007, Directive 2007-01, established minimum qualifications for all directors and deputies (See Appendix III, page 263). In December 2007 the secretary of state’s Ethics Policy (See Appendix III, page 295) was adopted. This policy provides guidance to members and employees of county boards of elections, poll workers, employees, and appointees of the secretary of state to clearly state expectations and legal requirements for complying with the state’s ethics law and working in such a manner so as to ensure public confidence in the state’s elections.

Overall the county boards of elections performed exceedingly well in the March 4, 2008 primary election. A record high 46% of eligible voters turned out for this presidential primary (3,603,523 of the 7,826,480 registered voters in Ohio) to cast their ballots. Over 500,000 voters (approximately 14% of the primary election’s voters) voted by absentee ballot, taking advantage of the recent change in state law that does not require a reason to vote absentee.ii The professionalism and emergency planning by boards of elections allowed them to overcome unforgiving weather conditions, power outrages, bomb threats and late evening court orders.

In addition to the directive for backup paper ballots, other directives provided instruction and guidance on ID requirements for voters, absentee voting, provisional voting, proper procedures for processing absent voter’s ballots prior to Election Day, unofficial and official canvass procedures, recount procedures, and post-election audit procedures. (See Appendix III, Directives and Appendix VII, Court Orders, page 511) In addition, instructions were provided for polling place security and chain of custody procedures for transporting voting equipment, ballots and election supplies, as well as instructions on the proper procedures for encryption of security cards for DREs. Secretary of state advisories provided information and instructions on the presence of observers in polling places, polling place conduct, media access to polling locations and
exit polling. (See Appendix IV, page 441)
The Mysterious Case of Ohio's Voting Machines PDF  | Print |  Email
By Kim Zetter   
March 28, 2008

This article was posted at the Threat Level Blog and is reposted here with permission of the author.

In 2006, Ohio became the poster-child for bad election administration when two lengthy reports examining Cuyahoga County's election procedures uncovered multiple serious problems (the county lost 812 voter-access cards that allow a voter to cast a ballot on machines; it also lost 313 keys to the memory-card compartments where votes are stored on machines and hired taxi drivers to drive to election precincts and pick up the memory cards that contained the votes).

Then in 2007, two election officials in Cuyahoga County were convicted of rigging a recount in the 2004 presidential election by cherry-picking ballots to recount that they knew would match the official count rather than randomly picking ballots.

Now we have a mystery involving touch-screen voting machines used in Franklin County, Ohio, that has launched a criminal investigation to determine why a message that some voters saw on their touch-screen machines didn't appear on other machines.

The issue has raised a number of questions about when the electronic ballot on the machines was programmed and by whom. A preliminary investigation has also uncovered a couple of additional surprises about the machines -- it turns out that not only did the county fail to conduct mandatory tests on the machines before the November election, but a county programmer had also intentionally disabled an internal auditing function for logging any changes made to the machine software, possibly thwarting investigators' ability to determine what occurred with the ballots and who was responsible. The programmer says the voting machine company advised him to disable the log to speed up the programming process.

The machines in question are made by Election Systems and Software, the largest voting machine company in the country, which is based in Omaha, Nebraska.

Ohio: Post-Election Audit Would Improve Voter Confidence PDF  | Print |  Email
By Lawrence Norden, Brennan Center for Justice New York University School of Law   
March 15, 2008
This oped was published in the Columbus Dispatch and is reposted here with permission of the author.

No matter their political persuasion or favored candidates, Ohioans should feel good about the March 4 election: Despite the bad weather, record numbers of voters turned out and, presented with significant procedural and equipment changes, most poll workers and election officials performed very well.

But Ohioans shouldn't close the book on the election just yet. There's still important work to be done, especially if we want to make sure that the general election in November goes as smoothly as possible.

Ohio counties should conduct post-election audits as soon as practical, to confirm for voters that their choices were accurately counted and to provide feedback that will allow counties to improve the voting process in November.

Audits are standard practice in both the public and private sectors. They allow government agencies and private businesses to catch mistakes and set benchmarks for future performance. There is no reason Ohio elections should be exempt from this standard accounting practice, which a growing number of states concerned about voting-system security have adopted in the past few years.
Will Some Ohio Polling Places Be Inadvertantly Shut Down on Election Day? PDF  | Print |  Email
By Joseph Lorenzo Hall   
February 22, 2008
This article was posted at Joe Hall's Blog and is reposted here with permission of the author.

Many of us are seriously worried about Ohio's March 4 primary. I highly recommend Ned Foley's article, "Administering the March 4 Primary in Ohio", which lists five things we should all keep our eyes on. In the 8th paragraph of Prof. Foley's article, he mentions a bill that the Ohio House was poised to pass on Tuesday. That bill was SB 286, and it did pass on Tuesday with little opposition.

Prof. Foley talks about concerns he has with a particular feature of the bill: a new practice allowing mid-day pickups of ballot materials at the polls. Foley is primarily, and appropriately, concerned with chain of custody issues; that is, the procedures that ensure ballot materials make it from the controlled environment of the polling place to the controlled environment of election headquarters without any additions, subtractions, modifications or damage.

However, there are other aspects of this bill that are troubling. For example, on the issue of mid-day pickups of ballot materials, neither the legislature nor the Ohio Secretary of State seem to fully understand what this process would entail. In order to hand-off ballot materials at mid-day, pollworkers will essentially have to do all the things they normally do at the close of polls. Most importantly, they'll have to reconcile the number of ballots cast up to that point with the number of signatures in their pollbook. This means that the pollbook will be entirely unavailable to voters who arrive at the polling place during this process. Since the various steps of ballot accounting take on the order of an hour (maybe two), this means that the polling places in Ohio that do midday pickups will be closed to voters for this amount of time. SB 286 makes no provisions for the exact procedures involved with this; it appears that polling places in Ohio using central-count optical scan will be shut down for a period of time on 4 March.
Memo On EVEREST Report and Sec. Brunner's Recommendations PDF  | Print |  Email
By Lawrence Norden, Chair of the Brennan Center Task Force on Voting System Security   
December 18, 2007
Download testimony


Last week, Ohio Secretary of State Brunner released an analysis of Ohio’s voting systems that showed them to have major security and reliability flaws.  Secretary Brunner should be commended for initiating this study and helping jump start a conversation about how Ohio can best secure its elections and make sure that all eligible citizens are able to vote.  

Unfortunately, missing from much of the coverage of the report is the fact that some of Secretary Brunner’s recommendations to address the voting system security flaws have been met with a good deal of dismay in the voting rights and election integrity communities.  These groups believe Brunner’s  recommendations could result in the disenfranchisement of tens of thousands of voters (disproportionately poor, elderly and minority) AND at the same time create new security and reliability risks.

Ohio Study: Scariest E-Voting Security Report Yet PDF  | Print |  Email
By Ed Felten, Princeton University   
December 18, 2007

Anyone with access to a machine can re-calibrate the touchscreen to affect how the machine records votes (page 50):
A terminal can be maliciously re-calibrated (by a voter or poll worker) to prevent voting for certain candidates or to cause voter input for one candidate to be recorded for another.
Worse yet, the system’s access control can be defeated by a poll worker or an ordinary voter, using only a small magnet and a PDA or cell phone (page 50).

Some administrative functions require entry of a password, but there is an undocumented backdoor function that lets a poll worker or voter with a magnet and PDA bypass the password requirements (page 51).

The list of problems goes on and on. It’s inconceivable that the iVotronic could have undergone any kind of serious security review before being put on the market. It’s also unclear how the machine managed to get certified.

Even if you don’t think anyone would try to steal an election, this should still scare you. A machine with so many design errors must also be susceptible to misrecording or miscounting votes due to the ordinary glitches and errors that always plague computer systems. Even if all poll workers and voters were angels, this machine would be too risky to use.

This is yet more evidence that today’s paperless e-voting machines can’t be trusted.
Ohio Study: Voting Systems Vulnerable PDF  | Print |  Email
By Ohio Secretary of State Jenniefer Brunner MEdia Release   
December 14, 2007

EVEREST Report of Findings (PDF)

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio’s electronic voting systems have “critical security failures” which could impact the integrity of elections in the Buckeye State, according to a review of the systems commissioned by Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner.


“The results underscore the need for a fundamental change in the structure of Ohio’s election system to ensure ballot and voting system security while still making voting convenient and accessible to all Ohio voters, “ Secretary Brunner said Friday in unveiling the report.


“In an era of computer-based voting systems, voters have a right to expect that their voting system is at least as secure as the systems they use for banking and communication,” she said.

Ohio Provisional Ballots: Could They Determine Our Next President? PDF  | Print |  Email
By Nathan Cemenska, Election Law @ Moritz Web Editor   
December 13, 2007

This article originally appeared on the Election Law @ Moritz website and is reposted with permission.


As history has shown, almost anything can go wrong in an election. DRE machines can be misprogrammed, memory cards can be lost, ballots can be designed in a confusing manner that leads to over- and undervotes, VVPAT printers can run out of ink, election officials can fail to cooperate with one another, polls can open late or not at all and, if we somehow miraculously avoid all these pitfalls, perhaps a flood will sweep in to disturb what would otherwise have been a smooth election. Any one of these problems could manifest in ’08 and cause a repeat of the 2000 Presidential debacle but, after reading a draft of a paper produced by a colleague, I have come to believe that the most likely basis for a Presidential legal fight in 2008 is the counting of provisional ballots right here in my home state of Ohio.


In order to avoid causing undue alarm, it is important to emphasize that I do not actually think that the election disaster I am about to describe is going to occur. Rather, there is only a small chance (say, about 1%) that the Presidential result will both depend on Ohio and also be close enough to justify litigation over provisional ballots. Nevertheless, I think that this scenario is more likely to occur than any other potential election disaster. Furthermore, the harm that might come to us if this scenario does occur is serious enough to justify giving the matter some attention.


Here is why a 2008 Presidential candidate might dispute the counting of Ohio’s provisional ballots. First, because Ohio is such a swing state, the margin of victory is likely to be small. This in itself increases the likelihood of a dispute, because candidates know that they would only have to gain a tiny percentage of the overall vote to change the result of the election. Second, compared to other states, voters in Ohio cast a huge number of provisional ballots. Provisional ballots, unlike ordinary ballots, come with supporting documentation that in a recount or election contest can be used to prove whether they were eligible to be counted. Thus, provisional ballots are an easy target for litigation attempting to overturn the result of an election.

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