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November 22, 2005

Ohio Update: The AG's Opinion on Paper Ballots

At end of my long post on the recent problems with the Columbus Dispatch poll, I passed along a tip from an Ohio election lawyer that a recent "opinion" issues by the Ohio Attorney General gave all paper ballots the legal status of "public documents" after all formal counting has been completed.  Not surprisingly, the opinion by Ohio AG Jim Petro is posted online

Petro issued the opinion -- which as I understand it, has the force of law -- after various public requests for access to ballots and voting logs during the recount of Ohio's 2004 vote.  The opinion rules that during the official count or any recount "a board of elections has a duty to preserve ballots," and so Ohio's Public Records Law does not give the public the right to inspect the ballots.   

After the official count is completed (sixty days after the election), however, Ohio citizens have the right to examine the ballots under the Public Records Law:

Following the completion of the canvass of election returns under R.C. 3505.32, pollbooks used in an election are public records of a board of elections and are subject to public inspection in accordance with any reasonable regulations the custodian board of elections has established under R.C. 3501.13, except as may be provided by a proper order of a court.

That means that in early January, any Ohio citizen (or reporter) can request access to the paper ballots and conduct their own audit.   An enterprising voter or investigative reporter should be able to check the ballot paper trail in any of the 82 of 88 counties to look for inconsistencies between that paper record and the official count.   

For those who believe that the Ohio results amounted to "an astonishing display of electronic manipulation" in Ohio's election," or that the fraud is the most likely "suspect" for the considerable difference between the Dispatch poll and the election results, this provision offers the opportunity to go gather real evidence.  Obsessing over the Dispatch poll does not. 

I agree that as electronic voting systems become more and more pervasive, a paper trail is just the first step.  We also need more formal routine audit procedures with far more transparency.  So why not take the first step with a "citizen's audit" of the considerable paper trail in Ohio?  Yes, the various boards of elections may resist those who try to test the public records law, but why not try?

Related Entries - Initiative and Referenda

Posted by Mark Blumenthal on November 22, 2005 at 02:18 PM in Initiative and Referenda | Permalink


As someone who is a longtime observer of election results, I found it disturbing that Ohio is one of the states that fails to report its election results down to the precinct level on a web site. Even on many local county election web sites there is no reporting of precinct results.

As someone who worked on the staff of state redistricting committees, I can tell you that this information is very valuable and tells you much about a community that you would otherwise not know just from census data.

A careful examination of precinct results from election to election would also detect if their really is any electronic machine manipulation. It would take a very clever computer program to mimic the very diverse voting patterns which are displayed by most states in America, especially a large state like Ohio. For example you would have to know which precincts have large numbers of voters that swing between the parties in a series of elections. Areas that consistently vote heavily Democratic (such as African-American neighborhoods) usually vote consistently Democrat by 90% or more and have no swing vote between elections.
This would have to be taken into consideration in any computer manipulation of election results.

Precinct results as recently as the 1960s used to be printed in local newspapers. Now with the Internet available to almost everyone, there is no reason why local or state elections officials cannot make this information available to the public. It would be another step towards ensuring transparency in the election process and reassuring that their votes are counted accurately.

Jay O'Callaghan

Posted by: Jay O'Callaghan | Nov 22, 2005 3:35:05 PM

Since Mark hasn't mentioned it here, I'll take the opportunity to point to my reply at BRAD BLOG to his blog item above. It's posted at:


Posted by: Brad Friedman | Nov 25, 2005 2:09:34 AM

Hi Brad,

I posted a comment on your blog. It was rather long, but I basically want to encourage you to dialogue more with Mark and the Mystery Pollster blog.

I really don't think Mark is out to debunk fraud theories. My take is that theories that involve polls are going to get closely scrutinized by someone who knows how to judge a poll and isn't afraid to write about controversies that have entered the public debate. Simple as that.

If something comes up in the data, I think Mark would be the first to call for a public accounting of whatever the data says happened. I don't think we can ask for more, and so I don't think it is fair to attack Mark for not joining the election reform movement per se.

Just take Mark's analysis of polling for what's its worth. If he spanks you on overstating a polls support for a fraud theory (and I say that neutrally) take it like a man; but if you ask, I think Mark might be open to analyzing what, if anything, the poll in question might tell you about fraud.

I guess my point is that Mark has shown to be open to these questions and debates, for the public good IMO, and engages in dialogue with people who are willing to take a fact based approach to election fraud and polling.

Better to make friends than enemies.



Posted by: Alex in Los Angeles | Nov 26, 2005 10:35:51 PM

great article very useful information.

Posted by: criminal record | Nov 28, 2005 5:13:08 PM

In any questionable election we are going to need citizen audits of the paper trial.

Even most of the new electronic machines have a paper tape from the booth controllers that is run at the end of the day. Surprisingly few candidates requesting a recount know about or bother to compare these printed precinct totals with the county tabulated precincts.

Posted by: Easter Lemming Liberal News | Nov 30, 2005 1:35:32 AM

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