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Ohio Fights on Early Voting, Provisional Ballots

J.D. Pooley/Getty Images
Students from Bowling Green State University took a golf cart to the Wood County Courthouse in Bowling Green, Ohio, on the first day of early voting in the battleground state.

One of two legal challenges to Ohio’s voting procedures could end up before the Supreme Court in the next few weeks,  creating the possibility of an eleventh-hour decision affecting the nearly 8 million voters in  the crucial swing state.

President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign has until Friday evening to respond to a request by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) that the Supreme Court stay a lower court’s ruling blocking changes in the state’s early voting rules that would allow only military voters to cast ballots during the three days before Election Day.

The same federal appellate court that made that ruling is considering another case related to provisional ballots. The Service Employees International Union challenged the state’s refusal to count ballots cast in the wrong precinct as a result of poll worker error. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is expected to weigh in on that case within the next week, and the decision could lead to another high court appeal.

There is a great deal at stake in Ohio for Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, both of whom are focusing on the perennial battleground state as the race narrows to just a handful of states still in play.

Romney made appearances in Ohio this week in Cuyahoga Falls, Mount Vernon, Delaware and Sidney, with more stops scheduled on Friday and Saturday. Obama was at Ohio State University on Tuesday, where he reminded students that it was the last day to register to vote and encouraged them to take advantage of early voting now under way.

Ohio’s importance is not lost on election law experts. University of California, Irvine, law professor Rick Hasen has predicted that if the Supreme Court takes up a voting case before the elections, it will be one of the two from the hotly contested Midwestern state.

In both lawsuits, liberal groups have based their challenges in part on the high court’s decision in Bush v. Gore that ended the Florida recount in the 2000 presidential election.

“I think the court would rather not have to decide anything related to the election if it can avoid it. But once these cases come, then the court has to deal with them. They raise some difficult legal questions as well as some sensitive political ones,” Hasen said. “The court may well get through another election without having to tell us what Bush v. Gore means, but it’s a very real possibility now, in a way that it wasn’t before these cases were on their way to the court.”

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