Opening an Ugly Can of Worms

Almost 13,000 Republican voters in Hamilton County switched their party affiliation in Ohio's March primary so they could vote in the Democratic presidential race, and the forms they submitted to do

Almost 13,000 Republican voters in Hamilton County switched their party affiliation in Ohio's March primary so they could vote in the Democratic presidential race, and the forms they submitted to do so leave little doubt about many of their intentions.

The statements hand-written on many forms indicate a sizeable portion were following the advice of pill-popping radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh about his "Operation: Chaos," an effort to boost Sen. Hillary Clinton and keep the Democratic race unresolved for as long as possible.

Party-hopping for such dubious reasons violates Ohio law, but Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner doesn't want to open a criminal investigation. Local election officials insist they're overworked, adding that tightening up the system is virtually impossible to do on the county level and is a matter best left to state lawmakers. Meanwhile, no state representative or senator has dared broach the issue since the primary.

Under Ohio law, the ballot that a person casts in a primary election determines his or her party affiliation. Voters must fill out and sign Form 10W, which says the person supports the principles of that particular party. The designation remains in place until the next partisan primary in 2010.

Schoolteacher Jason Haap, the blogger known as "The Dean of Cincinnati," recently took students to the Hamilton County Board of Elections to show them what they can find using public records laws. The students examined and copied various forms, giving them a peek at how some voters flouted the law and tried to have it both ways.

In one example, voter Tonietta Smith from Oakley wrote at the top of her Form 10W "Democrat Primaries ONLY." She crossed out some words on the statement, making the form read as follows: "...that I desire to be affiliated with and that I support the principles of the (blank) Party..." In the blank, she wrote the word "Democrat" and right under the space "TODAY ONLY."

Voter Christopher Bartlett's form has two kinds of handwriting on it. He left the date blank, as well as the line indicating party affiliation. Under that line, an arrow points to the following statement: "I am voting for whom I wish regardless of party affiliation." The same hand that wrote the word "accept" at the bottom of the form apparently also filled in the date and the word "Democratic" on the blank line.

In all, 12,909 Republicans cast Democratic ballots March 4. Only 1,105 Democrats crossed over to the GOP side.

"It was a good example of how research can be used in the real world," said Deshawn, a 12th grade student of Haap's. "I was a little surprised by what all we found."

If it's plain to see for high school students, why do elected officials turn a blind eye?

"If I were a polling person, I wouldn't have accepted those ballots," said Pamela Swafford, director of the Hamilton County Board of Elections. Discarding them once they make it to her offices, however, poses a problem. "How are we going to turn them away once they've already voted?"

Swafford, who retires next week after 26 1/2 years, likes Ohio's open primary system but said some changes are needed to improve it and prevent such shenanigans.

Brunner also encouraged state legislators to review election laws and make changes. So far, no one has stepped up to the plate.

For now, the public is left at an impasse. If an election law is on the books but it's not enforced, it might as well not exist.


Porkopolis TIP LINES: 513-665-4700 (ext. 147) or [email protected]

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