By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS AND ANN SANNER
Voter advocates are criticizing an order by Ohio’s elections chief dealing with the casting of provisional ballots.
Advocates are saying on Saturday that the order by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted late Friday wrongly puts the burden of recording the form of ID used on a provisional ballot on voters, not pollworkers.
Attorneys representing Ohio unions who previously sued over provisional ballots say Ohio law makes it clear that this responsibility rests with pollworkers.
The attorneys argue that the order issued by Husted increases the chances of mistakes on ballots that will lead to them being thrown out.
They want the matter clarified by federal judge Algenon Marbley, who gave Husted until Monday to respond.
Messages left with Husted’s office Saturday were not immediately returned.
In a tight race, the ballots cast when voters don’t bring the proper ID to the polls, among other reasons, become crucial to the outcome.
By law, these so-called provisional ballots can’t be counted for at least 10 days after the election — Nov. 17, this year — to give Ohio officials time to verify a voter’s eligibility.
Recall the drawn out disputes in the presidential contest eight years ago between President George W. Bush and Democrat John Kerry.
The number of provisional ballots cast then was larger than Bush’s margin of victory over Kerry — about 119,000. Kerry didn’t concede until the next morning. A recount initiated and paid for by third-party candidates took weeks but didn’t change the outcome.
With 18 electoral votes, Ohio again is at the center of both candidates’ campaign strategies.
And the close race between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney has some concerned a conclusion could take days.
Some elections officials fear more Ohioans will be required to vote a provisional ballot this year after Secretary of State Jon Husted sent absentee ballot applications to about 6.9 million residents. Those who request the mail-in ballots but decide to vote in person on Election Day will have to vote a provisional ballot.
About 370,000 mail-in ballots — roughly 28 percent of the 1.3 million requested — had not been returned as of last Friday, according to Husted’s office. That number is expected to decline as the election nears.
Husted, a Republican, has tried to curb the number cast this year by allowing registered voters to update their addresses online.
How certain provisional ballots get counted in Ohio has been part of an ongoing legal dispute.
But on Wednesday, a federal appeals court put on hold a lower court’s order that would have required the state to count ballots cast not just in the wrong precinct but in the wrong polling location altogether.
In response to a federal court ruling, Husted has already ordered poll workers to count ballots cast by voters who show up at the correct polling place, but are mistakenly directed to an area where votes for other precincts are being cast.
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