Sunday, November 12, 2000

Ohio had own ballot confusion

In '78, many voted twice for governor

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Ohio might well have had the kind of chaos swirling now around the presidential vote in Florida had one simple fact been discovered sooner — that the votes of one of every 20 Ohio voters in the 1978 gubernatorial election weren't counted.

        That year, incumbent Republican Gov. James Rhodes eked out a victory over then-Lt. Gov. Richard Celeste, winning with a margin of only four-tenths of 1 percent in an election where more than 2.8 million voted for governor.

        But, it was learned later, nearly 150,000 Ohioans went to the polls and mistakenly voted for two candidates for governor, and their votes in the gubernatorial race were not counted.

        This fact may not have come to light had not a student in one of Professor Herb Asher's political science classes at Ohio State University pointed out something odd about the 1978 election returns: the governor's race — the biggest race on the ballot that year — did not draw the most voters in 18 of Ohio's 88 counties.

        Mr. Asher, now professor emeritus at Ohio State, found that the discrepancy occurred only in counties where the punch-card voting system was used — the same system under fire now in Florida and in use today in 70 Ohio counties.

        “We found out very quickly that the reason the guber natorial vote dropped off in those counties an unusual number of ballots were tossed because people had voted twice for governor,” Mr. Asher said.

        That year marked the first Ohio gubernatorial election where the candidates for governor and lieutenant governor ran as a team. Previously, the lieutenant governor had been elected separately. Confusion over seeing two names on one line of the ballot, Mr. Asher said, may have accounted for some of the “over-voting.”

        The vast majority of those “over-votes” were in low-income, urban areas that vote heavily Democratic. In some urban precincts, Mr. Asher said, the rejection rate was as high as one in every five ballots cast.

        With most of the mismarked ballots coming from heavily Democratic areas, the speculation after the release of the Asher study was that it might have affected the outcome of the election.

        But by that time, Mr. Rhodes had already begun his new term — the last of his four as governor — and there was no challenge to his election.

        Mr. Celeste would have to wait until the 1982 election, when he was elected over Republican Clarence Brown.

Ohio also has trouble with punch-card ballots
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