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Judge Orders Tax Recount

A judge has ordered a second recount in a vote that defeated a tax issue on Election Day. The issue later was approved in a recount.

Licking County Common Pleas Judge Jon Spahr's order on Tuesday came in a lawsuit filed by a group of tax opponents who questioned the way the first recount was conducted. A one-day trial in the case was held on Friday.

In Nov. 4 voting, the five-year, 1 percent income tax failed by four votes, 7,350-7,346.

Spahr said he ordered the second recount because he found irregularities in the Nov. 26 recount that would have affected enough ballots to change the election results.

``We're pleased with the decision and look forward to the recount in which voters can be assured that whichever way it goes the majority will rule,'' said Don Brey, attorney for the tax opponents, the Newark Schools Tax Challenge Committee.

Patrick Jeffries, Newark school board president, said the board will decide whether to appeal.

``We followed everything to the letter of the law, and we just wish he (Spahr) would have applied the law,'' he said.

The school board has said it will need to cut spending by $3.4 million, cut dozens of classes and end sports and band programs if additional tax dollars are not approved.

Mary Jo Long, county elections board director, said no date had been set for the recount.

At the recount, Newark schools representatives visually inspected each ballot. Elections officials found that the ``chad,'' a small piece of cardboard, was not cleanly removed from some holes indicating ``yes'' votes in the punch-card ballots. The recount found that the issue passed by 13 votes.

Spahr found that recount guidelines were not followed. Elections board employees should have inspected all ballots, and school officials should not have been allowed to challenge specific ballots.

Spahr also said that while an election board is not required to visually inspect each ballot, it should if the board discovers some reason to suspect an inaccuracy in the recount.

``In this trial, it was established by clear and convincing evidence that `hanging chad' is a problem and that unless all ballots are closely inspected on the automatic recount by an impartial body, such as the board of elections, a full and fair count of all votes cannot be attained,'' Spahr wrote.

(Copywright 1998, Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

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