In Case Of Election Emergency, Break Glass

The weak spots in Cuyahoga County’s voting system could bedevil us again in 2008. Here are the biggest things that could go wrong, and how you can protect your vote.

1. Voter Registration
Thousands of Cuyahoga County voters were deleted from the rolls in 2004 due to clerical errors and user-unfriendly software. (Elections officials are now correcting and double-checking for errors.) The Republican Party tried to challenge 17,000 new registrations in the county that year, but a federal judge stopped them. 
 > What you can do: Check your registration information online at — especially if you registered recently, haven’t voted in five years or more, or moved out of the county and came back. Correct any mistakes by filling out a new form. Your vote could be challenged if you’re not receiving your mail at your voting address, so re-register if you’ve moved.
Registration forms are available at city halls and libraries, online, or by calling (216) 443-3298. The deadline is Oct. 6.

2. Poll Workers
Poll workers suffered from long lines, little support and poor training in 2004 and 2006. New elections director Jane Platten has revamped training, added staff to the poll-worker hotline and recruited new, younger Election Day workers. The paper ballot system is easier to use, but poll workers aren’t used to it.
 > What you can do: Consider serving as a poll worker yourself, especially if you’re a quick learner with good organizational skills. You get paid $172 for the 15-hour day at the polls, night-before check-in and four-hour training.

3. The Voter ID Law 
A 2006 state law requires people to present ID to vote.
 > What you can do: Bring a current photo ID (driver’s license, state ID or military ID). Or use a utility bill, bank statement, paycheck or government check with your name and current address. Consider voting by mail, or voting early at the Board of Elections, starting Sept. 30 (see tip 5): If you do, you only need the last digits of your Social Security number, not an ID card.

4. Voting in the Right Place
Many votes get thrown out because people vote in the wrong location or line.
 > What you can do: Know your voting location and precinct number. It’s on your voter-registration card and other mailings from the Board of Elections, or you can look it up at The precinct number tells you which line to get in.

5. Long Lines
In 2004, long lines discouraged some from voting. Poll workers are better prepared today, and the new paper system helps cope better with overflows. Still, “voting is no longer a five-minute proposition,” says Platten. Poll workers’ jobs are more complex, and this election could spark record turnout.
 > What you can do: Vote in mid-morning or mid-afternoon if you can. Around 8 a.m. is next best. (Worst times: at 6:30 a.m., when polls open, and just before 7:30 p.m., when they close.) Know your precinct number (see tip 4). Before Election Day, read the sample ballot for your precinct (online at, especially the ballot proposals.
Consider voting by mail. Voters in the county will get absentee applications sent to them early this month. Fill out your application and ballot envelope carefully, so your vote isn’t rejected, and get your ballot to the board by Election Day.

6. Voting on Paper
Touchscreens had technical problems, so this year the county switched to paper ballots and scanners at voting locations. Voters need to mark their ballots carefully.
 > What you can do: Reread your ballot before you turn it in to make sure you didn’t double-vote in any races or leave any blank by accident, didn’t make stray marks, and filled in your choices completely. Ask for a new ballot if you make a mistake on the first one (or second one). Grab a cardboard privacy sleeve if you’re nervous about someone seeing your completed ballot. Feed the ballot into the scanner — if you double-voted, it’ll warn you and ask if you want the ballot back.

7.  Provisional Ballots

In 2006, 27 percent of provisional ballots cast in Cuyahoga County were rejected.
 > What you can do: If a poll worker pulls out a yellow provisional ballot envelope, ask a lot of questions to be sure you need to use it. Try to solve the problem first: If you forgot to bring your ID, go home to get it; if you’re not in the poll book, check your registration card or the wall maps to confirm you’re in the right precinct. Fill out the provisional ballot envelope carefully. You should also be given a hotline number to call to find out if your vote counted.

If all else fails...
If you or someone else has a serious problem voting, call the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections at (216) 443-3298, the Secretary of State’s Office at 1-877-VOTE-VRI, or the Election Protection hotline maintained by voting-rights groups, 1-866-OUR-VOTE. For contact info for other counties, go to the Secretary of State Web site or call 1-877-VOTE-VRI.

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