Spelling error could cost you your vote Americans worn out
Voting is no easy task for Roland Gilbert. The 86-year-old retired Ohio lawyer, who is legally blind, completes his absentee ballot with help from a machine that magnifies the print. So the registered Democrat was not completely surprised to learn he had made an error in filling out his 2014 ballot, entering that day’s date in the birthdate field. What surprised him was that it cost him his vote. Local election officials rejected it because it did not perfectly match his registration information on file. “It didn’t seem right,” Gilbert said. “I felt foolish for making a silly mistake.”
Laws passed by the Republican-led Ohio state legislature in 2014 require voters to accurately fill out their personal information on absentee or provisional ballots or they will be rejected - even if the votes are otherwise valid. The laws are being applied in a presidential election for the first time this year. A Reuters analysis found that where a voter lives can determine whether their provisional or absentee ballot counts in Ohio. The law requiring a perfect match on information such as name, address, birthdate, signature and ID number has been enforced unequally county to county, federal data and court documents show, with local officials sometimes using wide latitude in applying the standards. The disparity could hurt Democrats in Ohio, a vital battleground in the Nov. 8 election between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton. The 14 Ohio counties with the most restrictive enforcement accounted for 53 percent of Ohio’s total vote in 2012 and gave Democratic President Barack Obama 60 percent of the votes he won in Ohio. More than half of the provisional and absentee votes discarded for minor errors in 2014 came from five large, Democratic-dominated urban counties: Lucas, home to the city of Toledo; Cuyahoga, which includes Cleveland; Franklin, home to the state capital, Columbus; Summit, which includes Akron, the fifth-largest city in the state; and Hamilton County, home of Cincinnati.
While the number of votes rejected for technical reasons was small in the 2014 congressional election, when nearly 3,000 absentee and provisional ballots were thrown out, those totals are likely to swell in a presidential election, when more people will vote. The number of discarded ballots could go even higher in Ohio after a court ruled that tens of thousands of voters who had been purged from the state voter rolls can cast provisional ballots, expanding the possible pool of disputed votes. A provisional ballot is used to record a vote when there are questions about a voter’s eligibility. Election boards, split evenly between Republicans and Democrats in Ohio, then examine the provisional ballots to determine if the vote should count.
“There are going to be thousands of indisputably registered and eligible voters in Ohio who are going to be disenfranchised solely because they made trivial, immaterial errors and omissions on forms,” said attorney Subodh Chandra, who has led a court challenge to the laws on behalf of a homeless coalition and the Ohio Democratic Party.
A federal district judge threw out the provisions requiring a perfect match on personal information as discriminatory earlier this year, but most were later restored by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeals court did remove the requirement that voters accurately fill in their address and birthdate on the absentee form - any vote cast by mail or in person prior to Election Day - but kept the requirement for the other fields on both types of ballots.
The US Supreme Court on Monday rejected without explanation a request for an emergency stay of the appeals court ruling that would have allowed ballots with those technical mistakes to be counted. A spokesman for Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, said the 2014 laws were aimed at finding a balance between making it “easy to vote and hard to cheat” and that officials were striving to be more consistent in the law’s application. —Reuters
The US presidential election is only a few days away, but for most Americans worn out by the vicious campaign, the vote can’t come soon enough. “People are always somewhat stressed during elections but I’ve never seen it this extreme,” said Judi Bloom, a Los Angeles-area psychologist. According to a recent Harris Poll on behalf of the American Psychological Association (APA), more than half of Americans are stressed out by one of the most adversarial contests in recent history.
For months, Donald Trump, the Republican candidate vying for the White House, has hammered away at President Barack Obama’s policies on healthcare, Syria or trade, denouncing them as a “disaster” and warning that his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton would lead the country to “catastrophe”. He has also warned that hordes of migrants, described as “rapists” and “criminals”, are seeking to slip into the United States through the border with Mexico - where he wants to build a wall - and that militants are hiding among Syrian refugees.
Clinton for her part has also gone for the jugular, denouncing her rival as “unstable” and capable of unleashing nuclear war “just because somebody got under his very thin skin”. She has lashed out at him over allegations of groping women and sexual assaults charges he has denied. “It’s a very negative campaign, with candidates accusing each other of lying, saying the election is rigged and it generates a sense of hopelessness, of ‘this is the end my friend,’” Bloom said. “I get a lot of ‘I’ll move to Canada.’”
Robert Bright, a psychiatrist in the western state of Arizona, said not since the Sept 11, 2001 attacks or the financial crisis has he seen this level of anxiety among Americans. “Just yesterday, I saw a woman who had trouble sleeping at night,” he told AFP. “Another patient who is very ill joked that the good thing about dying is that he will not have to watch any more political commercials.” Rather than using campaign slogans such as Obama’s rallying cry of “Yes We Can”, the 2016 frontrunners in the race have played up the Fear Factor which has increased voter angst.
“People fear for their financial safety, for the national security, terrorist attacks, there’s a fear of the ‘other,’” Bright said. He added that Republicans especially are concerned about the future makeup of the US Supreme Court, where the next president will potentially appoint three or more new justices to lifetime seats. Added to that, Republicans are also fearful of losing control of both houses of Congress and are fretting over the future of their party, which has been left in tatters.
The campaign has meanwhile often sunk below the belt amid lurid sex scandals and hyperbole. Trump has repeatedly labeled Clinton “crooked” and appeared with women who have accused his rival’s husband - former president Bill Clinton - of sexual assault. He has also talked about the size of his penis and, in a lewd 2005 recording that upended the campaign, bragged about grabbing women’s genitals and making unwanted advances. “Those words, images, created a feel of lack of safety for women in general,” Bright said. “And for those having had sex aggression, it absolutely triggered things, reactivated traumas, gave them nightmares.” —AFP