Ohio is shaping up to be a potential epicenter for post-Election Day litigation, with Republican-backed legal teams expressing fears that thousands of tainted Democratic registrations could steal the election.
With Barack Obama leading in Ohio by just 3 percentage points, according to the University of Cincinnati’s latest poll, a report in Time.com notes that there probably will be a close vote in the Buckeye State.
In 2004, President Bush won Ohio by just 118,601 votes out of 5.6 million cast. The total number of voters in the state is now a whopping 8.3 million, and a turnout of up to 80 per cent is predicted. But about 200,000 of the new registrations are irregular, said Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner.
Strong voter recruitment has added about 660,000 names overall to the Ohio register since January.
“Could Ohio’s election be stolen?” says a GOP radio ad on local radio stations, fueling concerns that there will be a race to the courthouse should Ohio take a wrong turn on Election Day.
Just to make things more interesting and potentially chaotic, a district judge has ruled that Ohio counties must accept votes from homeless individuals who list non-addresses such as park benches, bus stops, or car parks as their places of residence, according to a report in the Sydney Morning Journal.
Ticking Time Bomb of Provisional Ballots
No one knows whether those 200,000 newly registered voters whose registration information is inconsistent with the records of other state agencies will show up at the polls. However, the rule is that the ballots of any ostensible John Q. Citizen and Jane Q. Public whose personal information does not gel with election rolls at the time of voting will go into a voting limbo called provisional ballots.
If the voters appear legitimate after further vetting, their provisional votes are tallied with the rest.
The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless recently won a lawsuit forcing Brunner to impose consistent statewide rules to deal with the nettlesome provisional ballots, according to the Time report. But because the ruling came so late in the registration-voting process, there is concern that there will be insufficient time to straighten things out.
“It’s still a mess,” said Caroline Gentry, a lawyer for the coalition. “If it’s a close election, I do think there will be litigation.”
All that is hinging in Ohio has not been lost on the Bush administration.
Late last week, President Bush, after a request from Ohio Republican and House Minority Leader John Boehner, asked U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey to investigate the status of those 200,000 Ohio voters whose registrations have been questioned, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.
Before the presidential move, many in the GOP had hoped that Secretary of State Brunner would defuse the issue.
For a while, it looked as if the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals would force Brunner to reconcile the state’s voter registration database immediately, accounting for newly registered voters whose information did not match Social Security and driver registration.
However, late last week, Supreme Court justices blocked the lower court ruling after considering an appeal from Brunner and other election officials, according to a CNN report.
Meanwhile, the beleaguered Brunner has been arguing that perhaps the entire furor is much ado about nothing, saying that a registration mismatch is not necessarily an indication of fraud.
Brunner maintains that mismatches sometimes occur because the data has been entered improperly in one of the databases, voters have moved but not updated the addresses on their driver’s record, or for other innocent reasons. And many mismatches that appear in the state’s system may have been corrected already at the county level, according to a report in the Columbus Dispatch.
At one point, Democrats cited the example of Joe the plumber, John McCain’s iconic foil and the man from Toledo who dueled with Barack Obama.
Joe’s real name, Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, reportedly was misspelled on the Lucas County, Ohio, registration rolls. So if he had registered this year, it would have shown as a mismatch that could have questioned his eligibility, Democrats said, according to the Dispatch.
Ohio’s Swelling Ranks of Absentee Voters
Meanwhile, Brunner recently announced that an unprecedented1.46 million Ohioans requested absentee ballots. According to records from her office, 221,368 Ohioans requested in-person absentee ballots and 1,234,996 asked for mail-in absentee ballots through Oct. 24, a total of 1,456,364 absentee ballot requests.
This is the first presidential election in Ohio in which any voter can request an absentee ballot without a reason, a process commonly referred to as “no-fault” absentee voting.
“Every day, people from across Ohio are expressing their confidence in our bipartisan election system by taking part in the absentee voting process,” Brunner said.
During the first week of absentee voting, alone, 652,875 absentee ballots were requested. Of that total, 585,467 Ohioans requested mail-in absentee ballots and 67,408 requested in-person absentee ballots. About 12,800 of those requesting in-person absentee ballots registered on the same day.
The new system that allowed Ohio residents a weeklong window, which ended Oct. 6, to register and vote in person on the same day spawned its own legacy of litigation.
The so-called “one-stop” voting, which the courts approved after the GOP challenged it, resulted in aggressive drives to register college students, minorities, residents of homeless shelters, and other groups, according to a report in The Washington Post.
Ohio Republicans argued that Brunner had pushed the “one-stop” process to benefit her party’s candidate, Barack Obama. State Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett expressed disappointment in the rulings, saying, “This is a win for Jennifer Brunner’s partisan efforts to aid the Democrat turnout strategy.”
All the lawsuits, news conferences, calls for investigations, and court decisions have not done much to bolster Ohio voters’ confidence in the system. Just a fraction over three-fourths said they do not trust the voting process, with just under a fourth saying they do, according to an unscientific Cincinnati.com Internet poll.
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