Record provisional voting in swing state Ohio

Saturday, November 15, 2008 | 4:42 p.m. CST

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The debate is on regarding a record number of provisional votes cast in the Nov. 4 election.

Some election experts say the number is far too high and exposes problems in the voting system. Others say the provisional ballots show the system is working by protecting voters.

More than 193,000 provisional ballots were issued for the Nov. 4 election, far more than the 159,000 cast four years ago despite fewer voters going to the polls this year in the state.

The totals are unofficial and won't be final until counties complete their official vote tallies.

Peg Rosenfield, elections specialist for the League of Women Voters of Ohio, says there are far too many provisional ballots being cast.

Other battleground states have much lower rates of provisional ballots, said Edward Foley, director of the election-law center at Ohio State University. Missouri, for example, had about 5,700 provisional ballots Nov. 4.

"If it can't be shown they're worse off than we are with a low rate of provisional voting, what are we gaining by having these high rates?" Foley asked.

Provisional ballots are issued to people who move and don't update their address, who don't appear in the poll book for some reason or who don't have proper identification.

The ballots are held for 10 days while elections workers verify the voter's eligibility and either count the ballot or discard it.

Donetta Davidson, vice chairwoman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, says provisional ballots ensure that people aren't prohibited from voting altogether. Davidson was in Ohio on Election Day to monitor voting.

"The disenfranchisement is so much smaller now than what it used to be," Davidson said.

Ohio had one of the nation's highest rates of provisional ballots — 81 percent — counted toward results in the 2006 elections. That can make calling a close race more difficult.

Provisional ballots account for the highest number of uncounted ballots in a central Ohio congressional race that still hasn't been called.

Republican Steve Stivers of suburban Columbus leads Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy by just 149 votes in the 15th Congressional District.

Almost all of the uncounted provisional votes — just over 27,000 — are in Franklin County, which leans Democratic.

U.S. District Court Judge Algenon Marbley is considering a request by the Ohio Republican Party to have about 1,000 disputed ballots in that race tossed out.

Marbley said after a Saturday hearing that he will rule Monday on whether he has jurisdiction. If he decides that he doesn't, he will send the case back to the Ohio Supreme Court where the request was first filed.

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