Provisional ballot new #039;hanging chad#039;

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 30, 2004

Tribune editorial board

Four years ago, an election squabble punched the phrase "hanging chad" forever into our national vocabulary.

Now, another phrase may soon find itself front and center of the controversial Election Day stage - the provisional ballot.

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Given that Ohio is a state that is considered "in play" by both political parties, Ohio could find that controversial stage planted firmly on Buckeye soil.

Provisional ballots are nothing new. But the controversy surrounding them seems to have gained momentum since the 2000 election results in the state of Florida caused such a stir.

Provisional voting rules allow a legally registered voter to cast a ballot at any polling place, even if it is not in the precinct in which they should be registered. The ballots are accepted on the provision that the voter can later be determined as legitimately registered somewhere in the state.

The purpose of allowing such voting is to create a system that can count votes from registered voters who may have moved or were left off the voter roll by accident.

Recently, Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell issued a directive that made the acceptance level a bit stricter. Blackwell instructed poll workers to accept provisional ballots only when a person votes at the precinct at which they should be registered.

Blackwell's purpose seemed well intentioned, but we question the need for provisional voting at all. Ohio has allowed it for years. But provisional voting became nationwide with a federal law in 2002.

Protecting a person's right to vote is certainly important. But should we have a federal law intended, at least mostly, to overcompensate for residents' poor memory or inattention to detail?

Most of the reasons cited for why we need provisional voting are that many people fail to remember to change their voter registration information when they move.

It seems a better way to solve that problem would be in making certain election officials are informing voters where and when to vote and perhaps a few lessons on memories.