Ohio elections chief breaks tie over ballot count

LISA CORNWELL Associated Press Published:

CINCINNATI (AP) -- Ohio's elections chief on Tuesday sided with fellow Republicans in breaking a tie vote over counting ballots in a disputed 2010 juvenile court election.

Secretary of State Jon Husted agreed that the Hamilton County Board of Elections in southwest Ohio should appeal a Feb. 8 court order that requires the board to count hundreds of provisional ballots.

The board's two Republicans voted to appeal the order, saying the ballots are not eligible. The two Democrats on the board want the disputed votes tallied.

Republican John Williams holds a 23-vote lead over Democrat Tracie Hunter in the November 2010 race. Many of the disputed ballots were in Democratic precincts.

A U.S. District judge ordered the ballots to be counted, saying poll worker error caused votes to be cast in the wrong precincts even though voters were at the right polling location. During the election, multiple precincts could be assigned to a single polling place. Judge Susan Dlott said it was unfair to those voters not to count their votes.

Husted, who has previously sided with excluding the ballots, said in his statement Tuesday that the court order "has broader implications than the outcome of one race in Hamilton County" and he remained concerned that a federal court is "dabbling in how to count ballots" in a local election.

He said the court order was contrary to laws passed by the Ohio General Assembly and affirmed by the Ohio Supreme Court and does not rely on any "written state or federal law, but upon a contrived standard in a questionable consent decree" approved by another federal court.

The only way the state can adhere to Ohio law, follow the federal court's ruling and avoid future costly legal battles over the counting of ballots would be to require "single-precinct polling locations in every county in Ohio," Husted said.

Attorneys for Hunter and Williams did not immediately return calls Tuesday night.

Messages left for Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Alex Triantafilou and the county's Democratic Party chairman, Tim Burke, at their parties' offices were not immediately returned. Triantafilou is chairman of the county's Board of Elections and Burke also serves on the elections board.

A retired judge has been filling in as a juvenile court judge while the issue has been in the courts.