Thursday, December 24, 2009

Online form aims to cut candidate errors‏

Source:  Dave Hendricks, Columbus Dispatch, Dec. 23, 2009
Fill-in-blank nominating petitions will detect missing info

A new online form released this week will help prevent budding politicians from goofing up the paperwork required to run for office in Franklin County. The fill-in-the-blank form, produced by the Franklin County Board of Elections, allows candidates to create a nominating petition online.

Similar to other Web forms, it will not allow a candidate to skip a required item or enter information that doesn't match existing records.
"If they use our app, the only thing they have to do is sign the petition. We've done everything else for them except collect the names," said Ben Piscitelli, spokesman for the board.

Donald McTigue, a Columbus lawyer with more than 25 years' experience in election law, called the change "an innovative idea."
"I'm not actually aware of anyone else doing it," he said.

The secretary of state's office isn't aware of a similar service in any other county, and the Franklin County board thinks it's the first in Ohio to offer it.
Small errors can create big headaches for candidates. This year, about a dozen candidates were knocked off the November ballot for mistakes.

Among the errors:
• Bexley's auditor didn't realize that he had to sign the back of a form, which prevented him from running for re-election.
• A candidate for Grove City's council didn't specify the seat he was running for.
• A candidate for Worthington's City Council wrote the wrong date on his petition.

Not all mistakes disqualify candidates. Joy E. Chapin left her glasses in the car and couldn't read tiny print on her petition for Brown Township trustee that asked for her address. She thought the line, below a space for a signature, was for a printed name. The board allowed her to remain on the ballot.

"You know, I understand you have to pay attention to detail, but in the same respect, that really stops good people from participating," Chapin said. She called the new form marvelous.

To avoid allegations of favoritism, the board doesn't allow employees to advise on how to fill out the forms. Even simple questions about where to write what date or whether the form was filled out correctly couldn't be answered, Piscitelli said.

The board's deputy director, Matthew Damschroder, thought up the idea for the online form, Piscitelli said. Other improvements on the elections board's Web site include sample ballots, voter-registration data and a tool that allows voters to look up their polling places.
Of course, plenty can go wrong after the paperwork is filed.

Inexperienced candidates often forget to collect the names and addresses of donors, no matter how small the donation, and print the "paid for by" information on campaign material.
For details, go to and click on "Candidate Services."


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