Ohio Requires Photo ID For First Time

Cuyahoga County in Ohio had huge voting problems in the 2004 and 2006 elections. Since then, it's made many changes to voting rules and machinery. But this morning, broken machines had some worried.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

So, the simple act of casting a ballot has already been the subject of dozens of legal actions in 15 states this year. Many of them center around the issue of voter eligibility.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

We sent reporters to three of those states. We begin in Ohio.

ALEX COHEN: I'm Alex Cohen at the Mt. Haven Baptist Church in East Cleveland, where Amoty Henry waited in line since 5:45 this morning to vote.

Mr. AMOTY HENRY: I wanted to beat the lines. There's been talk there's one way of possibly disenfranchising votes because people can't wait that long, eight hours, six hours.

COHEN: Henry said things went pretty smoothly for him once the polls opened at 6:30. This is the first presidential election that Ohio has required photo ID to vote. Miriam Scott said she came prepared thanks to a leaflet left on her door yesterday by the Obama campaign. It included a list of acceptable forms of identification.

Ms. MIRIAM SCOTT: This says utility or cell phone bill, which was awesome.

COHEN: But awesome was not a word everyone here used to describe the voting process.

Mr. HORACE WALTERS: Machines are broke, so I told the guy, you need to call the board of elections and get a couple more machines down here.

COHEN: Horace Walters came out of the church complaining about the new optical scanning machines. This is Walter's first time voting in Ohio after recently retiring here.

Mr. WALTERS: It's slow. It seems like they got older people at the tables. I think they should have younger people, you know, just to make things go faster.

COHEN: The situation here in Cuyahoga County was much worse during the last presidential election, says Candice Hoke, director of Cleveland State University's Center for Election Integrity. In 2004, Hoke says, there were long lines, problems with provisional ballots.

Dr. CANDICE HOKE (Director, Center for Election Integrity, Cleveland State University): Some of the punch cards were evidently not delivered to the correct precinct, so that, when voters voted, and they thought they may have been voting for John Kerry, the punch actually ended up for a third-party candidate.

COHEN: Two years later, she says, the board of elections tried to fix things by switching to touch-screen voting.

Dr. HOKE: We had massive numbers of poll workers not show up. The ones who did didn't understand how to set up the machines and get them functioning. Many memory cards didn't turn up for days later.

COHEN: Following that election, Ohio's secretary of state overhauled the Cuyahoga Board of Elections and appointed a new director, who's made plenty of changes.

(Soundbite of worker counting paper ballots)

COHEN: Last night, poll workers at the Lakewood United Methodist Church counted off hundreds of the paper ballots being used this time. This year, the board of elections was also more strict about the poll workers it hired. Mike McNutt is working his first presidential election this year. But to do so, he had to take a class.

Mr. MIKE MCNUTT (Poll Worker, Cuyahoga County, Ohio): It's about a four-hour training session. We learn about maybe the little nuances and things that may have changed from the last election.

COHEN: Poll workers also had to pass a test. Mike McNutt says he feels well prepared, but there are still hours to go before Cuyahoga County Board of Elections can truly claim it's finally turned around its poor record. Alex Cohen, NPR News, Cleveland.

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