Ohio Election Site Back up Amid Fraud Fights

The voter-registration Web site in the key swing state of Ohio may be back online following a data breach earlier this week, but the partisan fights over voter fraud allegations rage on.

The Web site of Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, the state’s top elections official, contains logs of voter records, campaign contributions and other election information.

Personnel in the information technology division noticed the site breach on Monday and it was then moved into a static mode, said Jeff Ortega, a spokesman for the Democrat’s office. Most services had been restored Tuesday morning, Ortega told InternetNews.com, and IT personnel were scrambling to get the final components back online.

The security breach is the latest attack against Brunner’s office, which has become a lightning rod in Ohio politics lately, having to fend off accusations that her office is turning a blind eye to the potential for widespread voter fraud.

“Unfortunately, this is not the first instance of direct assault on the operations of the Secretary of State’s office. In recent weeks, phone lines and e-mail channels have been barraged, even in the business filings section of the office, with menacing messages and even threats of harm or death,” Brunner’s office said in a statement.

Brunner has been embroiled in a contentious dispute with the Ohio Republican Party over allegations that she’s too partisan for the role. In particular, the party filed a lawsuit over mismatched voter records in the state’s databases.

The issue in question — whether voters whose records contained discrepancies between state and local registries should be required to vote by provisional ballots, which are often disputed after Election Day — turned ugly, with each side accusing the other of cynical partisanship and undermining the fairness of the election process.

A U.S. District Court sided with the Republicans and ordered Brunner to update the state’s database to fix the discrepancies. Brunner appealed, claiming, “This database was never intended to be a litmus test for an Ohioans’ right to vote.” She added, “Ohio’s bipartisan elections officials have multi-layered systems to catch voter registration fraud and prevent illegal voting.”

The case made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, which overturned the lower court’s ruling Friday, meaning Brunner’s office did not have to match the new registrants with other federal databases.

The ruling said the lower court had exceeded its authority and erred in its ruling on the merits of the case. The high court offered no opinion on whether Brunner’s office had violated the Help America Vote Act, as the state’s Republican party had charged.

The database mismatches could have affected the way 200,000 Ohioans were allowed to cast their ballots. Republicans are still raising voter fraud charges in other parts of the state.

The breach is currently under investigation by the secretary’s office. The Ohio State Highway Patrol, which handles crimes against state property, is assisting with the case.

A spokesman for the Ohio Highway Patrol said the investigation is in a very preliminary stage, and that there is not yet enough evidence to produce any credible leads or determine how much information may have been compromised.

It’s little wonder that partisan tensions are running high in the state. With 20 electoral votes in play, Ohio is emerging as one of the prime battlegrounds in the upcoming election. It has played the role before. In the 2004 presidential election, complaints flew about ballot-counting procedures in a very close contest; the final tally secured the state for George Bush, tipping the election in his favor.

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