Ohio’s issues with provisional ballots could mean U.S. voters will have to wait weeks to find out who will be the next president.
Polls show President Barack Obama has the advantage in most battleground states, but he’s only slightly ahead of Republican rival Mitt Romney. The candidates need to capture at least 270 electoral votes to win the presidency, and the race for those votes will be tight.
It could be another situation for the Supreme Court, which ended up deciding the 2002 election results after Democrat Al Gore won the popular vote but George W. Bush won the electoral nod with the narrowest of margins in Florida.
Bush won the White House following the recount and “hanging chad” controversy.
The real snafu this year is in Ohio, where there will likely be many provisional ballots cast. State law there prevents provisional ballots from being counted until 10 days after Election Day, meaning a long period of time before election results are finalized.
"If it's too close to call in Ohio on election night that's a good indication it's going to be a few weeks at least," said Rick Hasen, an electoral law expert at University of California, Irvine and author of "The Voting Wars."
"It's going to be fought ballot by ballot if it goes into overtime."
Ohio election officials sent out absentee ballot applications to all registered voters hoping to cut down on lines and avoid a mess that occurred in 2004, when thousands waited hours in the cold to cast ballots.
Voters could mail back their early ballots or drop them in a box at a polling station. But if a person applied for an absentee ballot and then votes on Election Day, they’ll have to cast a provisional ballot that’s sealed in an envelope until officials can prove they didn’t already vote.
In addition, mailed-in ballots can still be counted late. They can arrive by mail at the local county election board office up until Nov. 16, just so long as they are postmarked by Monday. If Ohio’s race is close there will be an automatic recount.
"The good thing is, if all goes as hoped, Ohio has some pretty good laws and regulations in place on actual Election-Day practices," said Nick Worner, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union's Ohio branch.
Ohio also has strict standards in place to make sure that all 88 county election boards use reliable machines and report their initial counts in a timely manner.
Maggie Ostrowski, communications director for Ohio’s Secretary of State, said that Tuesday promises to bring a long night for fellow Ohioans.
"Historically it's going to be pretty late at night, early into the morning before you're going to see those final reports," Ostrowski, told AFP.
"It's going to depend on how close the race is whether we're all biting our nails."
AFP contributed to this report.
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