Election reform demanded in Cuyahoga County

CLEVELAND — At a spirited rally July 28 some 120 union members, retirees and community activists demanded the resignation of Cuyahoga County Board of Elections Director Michael Vu and Deputy Director Gwen Dillingham.

Chanting “Who must go? Vu must go!” the demonstrators were angry at the failure of both Vu and Dillingham to guarantee secure elections in the May primary. The machines used to read the optical scan votes of more than 15,000 absentee voters couldn’t read the ballots accurately, resulting in a hand count that delayed the outcome of the elections for a week.

North Shore Federation of Labor administrator Mike Murphy cited an independent study released last week that squarely blamed the board leadership for the problems and delay.

Chris Nance, representing Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio), said, “As regrettable as it may be, we have to say that Vu and Dillingham have demonstrated incompetence in their roles, and that, in the interest of fair and honestly run elections, the two must go.”

The Rev. Tony Minor said the primary elections debacle and the role of the Ohio secretary of state amounted to suppression of the African American vote. “Voter suppression is being done through mismanagement,” he said.

Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell chose not to act when the county election board split in a tie vote over Vu and Dillingham’s ouster last week. Blackwell, a Republican who is also running for governor and who is not particularly popular in Cuyahoga County, said that state law doesn’t allow him to act in “personnel” matters.

Critics say, however, that the integrity of the elections themselves is at stake. They accuse Blackwell of refusing to act to protect the elections for partisan reasons, hoping that disarray and a low voter turnout could help him in the governor’s race.

The big question on everyone’s mind is what will happen in November. At the meeting of the board, Judy Gallo, executive committee member of the Greater Cleveland Voter Coalition, a watchdog nonpartisan group that monitors elections in Cuyahoga County, urged voters not to stay home because of the flawed election process and the board’s past failures. “It is important,” she said, “that the turnout be as big as possible, and that citizens pressure the board to conduct honest and secure elections.”

Election activists and lawyers are gearing up for an “election protection” effort to monitor voters’ experiences and help them at the polls, similar to the 2004 efforts.

New identification requirements will be added for the November election, leading to widespread speculation that much confusion will result. Some seven forms of ID are acceptable, but it is expected that poll workers will have some difficulty properly identifying eligible voters, and could incorrectly turn voters away. Many voters may not realize what they have to bring with them to the polls to prove they are eligible to vote.

Citizen groups are working feverishly to get the word out to the public.