By Mary Pat Flaherty
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 25, 2008
The White House has asked the Department of Justice to look into whether 200,000 new Ohio voters must reconfirm their registration information before Nov. 4, taking up an issue that Republicans and Democrats in the battleground state have been fighting over in court for weeks.
The voter names are in dispute because their registration information conflicts with other official data.
The action comes a week after the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed a case brought by the Ohio Republican Party over the same issue. Republicans have argued that the mismatched information could signal fraudulent registrations, but Democrats have countered that eligible voters could be knocked off the rolls over discrepancies as minor as a transposed number in an address or birth date.
President Bush yesterday asked Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey to review concerns over the voters raised by House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).
Boehner wrote to Bush yesterday, saying, "I strongly urge you to direct Attorney General Mukasey and the Department of Justice to act." Boehner said in his letter that if the voters remain on the rolls without added checks, "there is a significant risk if not a certainty, that unlawful votes will be cast and counted."
In a news release, Boehner said that a letter he had sent Monday to Mukasey on the matter did not receive a reply. Boehner has asked Mukasey to order Ohio's Democratic Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner to make it easier for county elections officials to access the state list of mismatched voters. Brunner has argued that would require reprogramming election computers and would create chaos in the days before the election.
White House press secretary Dana Perino characterized Bush's referral of the matter to Justice as a routine step that would be taken for any such request from a congressional leader.
Voting rights advocates, however, immediately raised concerns. "This is taking the politicization of this to a new level, and the last thing we need is for the elections officials and voters of Ohio to be put in a chaotic situation in the last days before the election," said Jon Greenbaum of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
The voters' registrations have been at the heart of a dispute between the Ohio Republican Party and Brunner.
Information for the new voters does not match state driver's license or Social Security records. Federal law demands that states have a computerized database to check the records, but leaves it to states to determine what constitutes a match and what to do with mismatches. Voters who have not resolved discrepancies by Nov. 4 could be forced to cast provisional ballots, which are counted only if their registration information can be cleared up.
Brunner this week directed local elections boards not to eliminate voters solely on a mismatch, and yesterday issued orders urging boards not to force voters to use provisional ballots over minor issues.
"The statewide voter database was never intended to be a litmus test for voter eligibility," said Jeff Ortega, a spokesman for Brunner. "Every Ohioan must provide ID to prove their identity before their vote is counted. Ohioans can be completely confident in our preparations for a successful November election."
Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) said he was "disappointed that the president chose to interject partisan politics into the election. My confidence in Secretary Brunner's work remains unchanged."
Intervention on election matters has been a troubling issue at the Department of Justice and figured in the controversy over the firing of nine U.S. attorneys in 2006.
Staff writers Dan Eggen and Carrie Johnson contributed to this report.