CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The Nov. 8 ballot asks Cuyahoga County voters whether they wish to approve three state issues. But some who are voting early are wondering where to mark their votes. The confusion will be the same for those who go to the polls on Election Day.
The "yes" and "no" ovals that normally are under the wording for an issue appear to be missing for the state issues. The ovals aren't under the English version of the questions. They only are under the Spanish translations.
This is the first election in which bilingual ballots will be distributed countywide. The ballot design is particularly hard to follow because two of the three state issues are spread over two columns -- leaving no place to vote in the column with the English-language wording.
Anissa Smith, a high school government teacher from Cleveland Heights, said she had trouble navigating her absentee ballot. She fears the absence of ovals under the English version of the questions will hurt the chances of overturning Senate Bill 5, the collective bargaining overhaul that appears as Issue 2. Teachers' unions and other public employees oppose the issue.
This is bad," Smith said. "What if people are confused and they don't know what to do, and they don't vote on that issue?"
County elections director Jane Platten acknowledged the ovals are in an odd location, but the ballot design was unavoidable due to the length of the issues and the requirement that the county provide bilingual ballots. The county agreed last year to print ballots in English and Spanish, after the U.S. Department of Justice threatened to sue.
"A lot of people are not used to seeing Spanish," Platten said of early voters. "There's confusion on why they got a bilingual ballot in the first place."
The ballots going to early voters are identical to what voters will get at the polls. The bilingual ballots have added to what is turning out to be a bewildering election season for many voters.
The elections board no longer mails absentee ballot applications unless voters request one (Secretary of State John Husted in August forbid unsolicited mailings). The state also forbid elections boards from paying return postage on completed applications and on absentee ballots.
That was part of Republican-backed legislation restricting early-voting opportunities, which was put on hold after Democrats and voting-rights groups led a referendum effort. But the postage requirement stands for now, costing voters 64 cents to mail their ballots.
Cleveland Heights resident Russell Baron bristled at the postage, which is 20 cents higher than a first-class stamp.
"Who has a 20-cent stamp around the house?" he wrote in an e-mail. "How many voters will go to the nearest postal sub station to buy a 20-cent stamp or use the postage computer dispenser?"
The board is fielding many complaints about the postage and bilingual ballots, Platten said.
Separately, the federal government this week identified 248 locales in 25 states that must provide bilingual ballots. The mandate is based on the Voting Rights Act. It applies to counties and other political subdivisions where more than 5 percent of the voting-age citizens are members of a single-language minority group and have limited English skills.
Cuyahoga County does not fall under that requirement, according to the 2010 census, though some officials expected it would. The county's Hispanic population was 4.8 percent, according to the census.
In pressing its case for bilingual ballots in Cuyahoga and Lorain counties, though, the Justice Department cited a separate provision of federal law that says jurisdictions must provide the ballots to Puerto Rican voters with limited English skills.
Cuyahoga voters who need help with ballots can call an elections board hotline at 216-443-3298.
By Harlan Spector, cleveland.com
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