And the Winner Is ... Me


By Editorial Board
Published October 17th 2006 in New York Times
Voters in Ohio can be forgiven if they feel they have been beamed out of the Midwest and dropped into a third-world autocracy. The latest news from the state’s governor’s race is that the Republican nominee, Kenneth Blackwell, who is also the Ohio secretary of state, could rule that his opponent is ineligible to run because of a technicality. We’d like to think that his office would not ultimately do that, or that if it did, such a ruling would not be allowed to stand. But the mere fact that an elected official and political candidate has the authority to toss his opponent out of a race is further evidence of a serious flaw in our democracy.

Ted Strickland, the Democratic nominee, is leading Mr. Blackwell by as much as 28 points, according to one recent poll. In their panic, some Blackwell supporters have hit on the idea of trying to prevent the election from occurring. One of them filed a complaint alleging that Mr. Strickland, who is a member of Congress, does not live in the apartment where he is registered to vote. Mr. Strickland owns a condominium in another part of Ohio, and the complaint alleges that he actually lives there. If Mr. Strickland was not a qualified voter, he would be prohibited from running for governor.

The complaint itself is without merit. No one disputes that Mr. Strickland lives in Ohio, or that he is registered. The only issue is which of his two homes he chose to register from, and the law gives voters with multiple homes broad discretion in choosing among them.

What is more interesting, and troubling, is the way the complaint is proceeding. The county board that heard it broke down 2 to 2, on party lines, about whether to hold a hearing. In the case of a tie vote at the county level, complaints like these get forwarded to the secretary of state’s office to be resolved. Mr. Blackwell says he has designated his assistant secretary to handle duties that could conflict with his candidacy. But passing these matters on to a subordinate who is a political ally and owes his job to the candidate hardly removes the conflict.

Election administration should be removed from partisan politics, in Ohio and everywhere else. Decisions like these should be made by nonpartisan bodies or, failing that, by people who do their utmost to insulate themselves from partisan politics. In 2004, Mr. Blackwell chose to become co-chairman of President Bush’s Ohio campaign, and then issued rulings that helped the campaign. Now we have the even more bizarre prospect of Mr. Blackwell, or his deputy, potentially participating in the baseless disqualification of his opponent.

We are confident it will not come to that. But however this particular case is resolved, it underscores the need for Ohio, and other states, to find a way to administer elections that is insulated from partisan politics.