November 5, 2004
J. Kenneth Blackwell
Ohio Secretary of State
180 E. Broad St. 16th Floor
Columbus, OH 43215
Dear Mr. Secretary:
Ohio Citizen Action, as a matter of board policy, does not endorse or otherwise support candidates, directly or indirectly. We have a big interest in this election however: the voting rights of our 100,000 members and all Ohioans.
President George Bush and Senator John Kerry are acting as though they have the authority to decide who won by mutual agreement. They are, of course, wrong: there is no official count yet.
Accordingly, I hope you can quickly answer the following questions:
Yesterday's Columbus Dispatch attributed to your office the figure of 92,672 ballots uncounted, not including provisional and late-arriving absentee, military and overseas votes.
I look forward to your reply.
- How many ballots have undervotes or overvotes or are otherwise uncounted in each county?
- When will a database of such uncounted ballots by precinct be available?
- Have you issued instructions to the county boards of elections on the disposition of these ballots?
- What is your plan to check the 92,672 uncounted ballots to confirm that the precinct-level or county-level decisions to ignore them were proper and to remedy it if not?
Improper discarding of ballots can come from simple mistakes, confusion or incompetence; it does not necessarily involve a pattern of bias or a conspiracy. The consequence for the voter is the same whatever the origin of the error.
- Does your plan for checking both the 155,428 provisional ballots and the 92,672 other uncounted ballots include direct oversight by the media and citizens so that all Ohioans can be certain that Tuesday's balloting was fair?
- On Wednesday, you reported to White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card that President Bush's lead was "statistically insurmountable" considering the number of provisional ballots outstanding. Did your calculations include the 92,672 ballots mentioned above, and late-arriving absentee, military, and other overseas votes?
- If not, why not? And would the lead have been insurmountable had you included them?
Reportedly, the military and other overseas ballots are not expected to exceed 10,000. If 14% of provisional ballots were disallowed, as happened in Ohio in 2000, then the number of countable provisionals would be about 133,668. Some of the other uncounted ballots would be disallowed as well, of course, but there is no reliable rule of thumb for estimating how many.
133,668 provisionals + 10,000 (military and overseas) + unknown number of late absentees + 92,672 (other) = at least 236,340 ballots.
If Senator Kerry received 78% of these votes, with President Bush receiving the balance, Kerry's vote total would be 2,846,372 and Bush's would be 2,845,778. Thus, the outcome would be changed.
It is not possible to assess the likelihood of Kerry receiving this proportion of the outstanding votes, since -- as Florida demonstrated -- vote errors can be geographically concentrated, creating a considerable shift in results. That is why a precinct-level database will be helpful.
And I'm sure there are ways to improve on these estimates.
It is clear, however, that the vote difference between the top two candidates is "statistically insurmountable" only if you fail to examine carefully these 92,672 uncounted votes to make sure no one was unfairly discounted.