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November 5, 2010

Provisional ballots will decide fate of Bowling Green ordinances

Votes now split on two LGBT equality measures

Bowling Green, Ohio--After the vote on two equal rights ordinances was split in election-day returns, their fate will come down to provisional ballots.

Ordinance proponents in the northern Ohio college community are optimistic they will both pass.

The two measures, passed by city council in August 2009, were challenged by a petition campaign that put them on the ballot. They were the only LGBT issues on any U.S. ballot in this election.

With all precincts counted and the results posted after 11 pm on November 2, Ordinance 7905 won by 24 votes. The measure had trailed for most of the night. The count was 4,104 to 4,080.

Ordinance 7906, covering equal employment and public accommodations, failed by 116 votes. The count was 4,003 to 4,119.

Kim Welter, the director of the campaign in support of the ordinances, credits the efforts to promote early voting and student voting as the campaign turns its efforts to certification of about 500 provisional ballots.

Most of the provisional ballots were cast by Bowling Green State University students who reside in Bowling Green and are registered to vote in Ohio, but in their county of origin, not Wood County.

In order to count the votes, it must be verified that the provisional voter is a registered voter and that they did not also vote in the county where they are registered.

The provisional ballots take up to ten days to certify, and the process can be filled with legal challenges to each ballot from both sides.

Welter is confident that the housing ordinance will stand. It was always the easier of the two ordinances to sell to the public. It also passed its city council vote unanimously.

The employment and public accommodation ordinance passed council 6 to 1, and was the object of “an aggressive fear campaign based on bathroom usage,” according to Welter.

That campaign was heavily funded by the national anti-gay establishment including Citizens for Community Values of Sharonville, near Cincinnati, the group at the center of every anti-gay action in Ohio.

The two laws never took effect because petitions filed in March halted them, pending the outcome of this election.

The new ordinances expand existing measures to prohibit discrimination by sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, pregnancy, marital status, military status, veteran status, genetic information, HIV status and physical characteristics.

The original laws included race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, creed, ancestry, disability, and family status.

The new measures also created a complaint and penalty process that emphasizes mediated settlements over court action.

One Bowling Green, the campaign for the ordinances, had difficulty raising money, and when the final reports are in, may end up outspent.

That allowed the opponents to run ads designed to scare voters that men would be following young girls into public restrooms and that women’s privacy would be violated, with little to answer them in the last days of the campaign.

This canard has been used against similar ordinances in other cities and was expected in Bowling Green.

Welter said it is the reason why the job and public accommodation measure got fewer votes to keep it.

Welter is confident that the provisional ballots will add enough to pass the job and public accommodation ordinance and increase the margin of victory in the housing ordinance.

“Those are our votes,” Welter said. “The other side did not have a provisional voting campaign. We’re confident they are good.”

But they can be challenged, and the process is likely to be contentious.

Welter said “an experienced team” began working on the certification of the provisional ballots before the final results were posted. That team is headed by David Caldwell, a national expert in voter identification now working with the Leadership Mentoring Project of the Los Angeles LGBT Center. Caldwell led the campaign that created the domestic partner ordinance in Cleveland Heights in 2003.

Equality Ohio, The Mentoring Project, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and other national LGBT advocacy groups had organizers in Bowling Green, since it was the sole LGBT ballot initiative in the country.

Another LGBT matter of interest occurred in Iowa, where the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage defeated three Iowa Supreme Court justices who ruled in favor of marriage equality. The intent is to intimidate other elected justices in other states who might rule the same way.

Still, the mood is optimistic in Bowling Green.

While she was on the phone with a reporter, a male couple holding hands walked past Welter. They said, “Now we can do this on the streets of Bowling Green.”

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