Gambier voters tussle with new laws
Lacking adequate ID, some cast provisional ballots while more machines expedite voting process
Published: Thursday, November 9, 2006
Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 01:11
Though they encountered no 10-hour lines or television crews as in 2004, Kenyon students and Gambier residents headed to the polls on Tuesday to cast ballots for the midterm elections, facing new laws requiring particular types of voter identification.
Gambier's Community Center served as the local polling place both for Gambier and the College Township, and voters used new iVotronic voting machines. Voters had to sign in, show identification and then hand a ticket to an attendant who oversaw the operation of the voting machines, which could be initialized only with the attendant's electronic key. The iVotronic machines, designed by Omaha, Nebraska-based Election Systems and Software, consist of a large touch-screen display and a sealed, transparent plastic panel that allows voters to see their choices printed on receipt paper as they progress through the computer-generated menus.
Despite the evidential paper trail, the idea of electronic voting still left some uneasy. "I thought it was cool," said Sara Hirsch '10. "But my only concern is that our votes could be tampered with somehow. I'm still sort of skeptical." Gambier precinct poll workers said that 483 votes had been cast with two hours remaining until the polls closed at 7:30 p.m.
When asked how many people had problems with identification that interfered with their voting, the three workers sitting behind the check-in table pointed to a stack of yellow papers.
Thirty-eight provisional ballots had been cast throughout the day, nearly all by students with insufficient identification, poll workers said.
Just down the hall in the Community Center, College Township's poll workers said that throughout the day just one provisional ballot was cast there. One of the poll workers said that at least one voter, a Kenyon student, decided not to vote at all upon discovering he'd have to choose between filling out a provisional ballot or missing class.
Poll worker Joan Slonczewski, a professor of biology at Kenyon, placed the blame of the provisional ballots on the law itself for being unclear.
"The law has a poorly written part in it," said Slonczewski. "If you vote ahead [of time] you can vote directly on a paper ballot with just four digits of your social security number. But on Election Day it has to be on a provisional ballot."
Ohio's revised voting laws, which now require Ohio residents to present a government-issued photo ID or other form of identification with an Ohio address in order to be able to cast an official ballot, were met with controversy before Election Day. Many Democrats and even Kenyon professors felt that these changes, enacted by a Republican-controlled state legislature to curb voter fraud, would suppress Democratic votes ("Voters must show ID at polls," Oct. 19, 2006). Professor of Religious Studies Vernon Schubel told the Collegian that the law was a "shameful attempt to keep people from the polls," citing an estimated 12 percent of Americans who do not have drivers' licenses.
Slonczewki noted that a few of the provisional ballots were filled out by long-term Gambier residents who recently had address changes not reflected in the voter rolls. She also said that the record mismatches tend to disenfranchise lower-income voters because those who rent homes and are not financially stable tend to change residences often.
"The rules are so convoluted and it was difficult for the poll workers to interpret them … if you ask any of the poll workers, the law has a good idea behind it, but it was poorly written," Slonczewski said.
Democratic and Republican challengers and protesters were largely out of sight at the polls during the afternoon, presumably the busiest period of voting as classes and work shifts ended. A small group of workers for the Knox County Democrats that later reduced itself to a single person stood by the community center's driveway, greeting those approaching the building with sample ballots identifying the Democrats running in each race and answering questions about identification.
"A lot of people have been asking about ID," said Benjamin McIntyre '07, who worked for Democratic congressional candidate Zack Space's campaign and greeted people at the driveway to the polls. "The gentleman who was here before said that there had been a fair amount of provisional ballots cast … more than usual."
However, there was still confusion as to how some students were supposed to identify themselves as Ohio residents. Many out-of-state students lack a government-issued ID with a Gambier address, and other officially accepted forms of identification such as a current paycheck and a copy of a current utility bill did not prove practical for many Kenyon students. Though bank statements are accepted, students with accounts at Gambier's People's Bank are no longer issued paper statements by default.
Students in this crux were forced to come up with their own means of identification.
"I used a check that my credit card company sent to my P.O. box," said Geoff Toy '10, who is a People's Bank customer and not an Ohio resident. "They just accepted it."
While post office boxes do not necessarily denote Ohio residence, documents with name and P.O. box numbers were accepted at the Gambier polling station.
"I think the College can address this and get the proper information onto their [ID] cards," said Tom Edwards, a former dean of students at Kenyon College who now lives in Gambier.
"There's a number of things that mesh between what the College could provide on this card … and what is required for voting."