Ney Brings Hearing on Election Procedures to Ohio

Posted March 18, 2005 at 6:14pm

The House Administration Committee is scheduled to hold a field hearing in Columbus, Ohio, today to examine the successes and failures of the Help America Vote Act in the 2004 elections.

By bringing his committee to a state that was both pivotal to President Bush’s re-election and central to accusations by Democrats that serious irregularities there and elsewhere undermined the integrity of the balloting, Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio) is hoping to establish a clear record of what happened on and before Nov. 2 in the Buckeye State.

“Obviously Ohio was the contentious state,” Ney said in an interview. “It boiled down to Ohio. It was a state that had long lines and a lot of contentious aspects to it.”

On balance, Ney said, he believes HAVA worked fairly well and that many of the problems associated with balloting were local issues outside the scope of the 2002 legislation. But he wants to hear from elections officials and others in the state to find out “how did the elections go?”

Five panels are scheduled to participate in what could be a lengthy hearing. Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D) sought and received an invitation to testify about her concerns regarding balloting in her home state. Ney said, time permitting, she will also be allowed to ask questions from the other side of the dais.

The committee will also hear from Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell (R), who angered Ney and ranking member Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-Calif.) last month when he didn’t appear to testify at the panel’s first hearing on HAVA. Blackwell claimed a scheduling conflict. Ney and Millender-McDonald indicated that if he wouldn’t come before the committee, they would bring the committee to him. Dana Walch, Blackwell’s director of legislative affairs, will also testify.

Ney had already planned to hold the hearing in Ohio to provide what he asserts will be an open forum to air questions about how the election was conducted in Ohio, as well an opportunity to showcase some of HAVA’s successes.

In an interview, Millender-McDonald said she was happy with the witness list and believes the testimony will “provide an opportunity to learn and understand some of the problems you had in Ohio” and elsewhere.

“What’s important is for the secretary of state to come forward and talk to us,” Millender-McDonald said. “Looking at the list and the diversity of persons on it in terms of what they do … I think we are going to fare well.”

The panel will also hear from state Sens. Randy Gardner (R) and Jeff Jacobson (R), as well as state Rep. Kevin DeWine (R), all of whom will speak about a bill the Legislature passed last year requiring voting machines to provide a paper trail. Blackwell has said that requirement tied his hands and limited available technologies left him no choice but to mandate all counties use optical scan equipment. Ney has called that technology “medieval” and encouraged the Legislature to work out the issue with Blackwell, especially because many counties had already purchased electronic voting machines that didn’t meet the paper-trail requirement.

Also expected to testify are: Keith Cunningham (R), president of the Ohio Association of Election Officials and director of the Allen County Board of Elections; Mike Sciortino (D), director of the Mahoning County Board of Elections; Michael Vu (D), director of the Cuyahoga County board of elections; and William Anthony (D), chairman of the Franklin County Board of Elections.

The last panel will be made up of Edward Foley, a law professor at Ohio State University; Daniel Tokaji, assistant law professor at OSU; Mark Hearne, national counsel to the American Center for Voting Rights; and Norman Robbints, co-coordinator for the Greater Cleveland Voter Registration Coalition.