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Ohio voters, workers worry about poll intimidation, officials say instances are rare

FILE - Voting sign at the Franklin County Board of Elections. (WSYX)
FILE - Voting sign at the Franklin County Board of Elections. (WSYX)
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“We’re praying for peace at the polls.”

That was the sentiment behind a small march and prayer vigil last week in downtown Columbus. But despite concerns by voters, poll workers, and some elected officials, instances of voter or poll worker intimidation at the polls are rare, officials said.

Rev. Dan Clark with the group Faith in Public Life led the march from a downtown church to the office of the Ohio Secretary of State last week, concerned about voter suppression and intimidation.

“There’s a lot on the ballot in Ohio, we're hoping we get a great turnout this year,” Clark said.

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The prayer for peace at the polls comes amid scenes playing out in other states, including Arizona, where self-appointed poll-watchers sat at a ballot drop box while carrying firearms and wearing tactical gear.

But Secretary of State Frank LaRose said instances of intimidation are rare here.

“Things get reported on cable news that happened in other parts of the country and then all of a sudden people start to think it's happening in Ohio,” LaRose said. “We've not seen it happening in Ohio, but we also won't tolerate it if it does.”

Also last week, in Delaware, dozens of folks sat through a class to learn the procedures needed for them to become poll workers. Among them was Allison Fagan, a three-time poll worker.

“It's my civic duty, I believe in the importance of people voting,” Fagan said.

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Fagan said she’s never felt harassed or intimidated on Election Day, but she has heard snarky comments from some voters as she checked in voters, working with a bipartisan team member.

“You know, like, ‘maybe this time my vote will count' or a comment about, ‘I guess the two of us would change the vote’ or something ridiculous and insulting,” she said.

Fagan said she won’t engage with voters making comments like that.

“I just kind of said things like, I don't really know what you're talking about and just let it go,” Fagan said.

Last month, Columbus City Council passed an ordinance making poll-worker harassment a misdemeanor punishable by up to three days in jail. Director of the Franklin County Board of Elections Antone White reiterated that intimidation is rare.

“We're very fortunate, we're not seeing the same levels that we're seeing in other states,” he said. He spoke before the council last month when they passed the measure.

“They're trying to send a message,” he said. “I think they're raising awareness to say we're not going to tolerate that here.”

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White said the poll observers are allowed in Ohio counties, but they have to be registered with the board of elections ahead of Election Day and they can’t do much more than simply observe.

“They're not allowed to interfere, they're not allowed to stop a voter from voting, they're not allowed to interfere with an election official from doing their duty,” he said. “But they can come in, they can observe.”

Delaware County elections officials said they had a surplus of poll workers for next week’s election. Franklin County officials say they had reached their goal of hiring 5,000 poll workers.

Fagan said the political climate and the fear of intimidation are on her mind.

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“It has given me pause, but I'm still gonna do it,” she said. “This is a democracy, and this is how we protect our democracy by voting.”

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