- The Washington Times - Monday, November 1, 2004

Ohio’s secretary of state says he doubts it will take an extended count of provisional ballots to determine the presidential winner in that battleground state.

Such a scenario — with election officials spending several days counting hundreds of thousands of provisional ballots to determine the winner — is “not far-fetched, but if pushed, I’d say that won’t happen,” said Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, a Republican.

Others see a race close enough to invite legal challenges reminiscent of the 37-day Florida recount dispute in 2000.

“Probably the courts will decide the election in Ohio,” said a county election official who asked not to be identified. “Count on close races with margins less than the total number of provisional ballots cast.”

But Mr. Blackwell said he expects one side or the other, by virtue of a better voter-turnout operation in the state, to gain a margin of victory large enough so that provisional ballots won’t matter.

“I actually think the superiority of one side over the other in their voter-turnout operations will produce a winning margin big enough so we’ll know election night who won Ohio,” Mr. Blackwell said.

“But if both parties achieve the same level of turnout, it could be razor thin and we’d have as many as 200,000 provisional ballots,” Mr. Blackwell said.

In that case, the earliest anyone will know whether President Bush or Sen. John Kerry won the state — and perhaps the presidency — will be 11 days after the close of voting tomorrow.

Under federal reform enacted in 2002, provisional ballots are available to those who are not listed on the voter rolls in their precincts. They are entitled to fill out ballots that are placed in signed envelopes for evaluation of their eligibility after Election Day.

Some Republicans say an unusually strong turnout by evangelical Christians, especially in rural counties that won Ohio for Mr. Bush in 2000, will carry the president to victory by a margin greater than the total number of provisional ballots.

That would render provisional ballots irrelevant to the outcome, but Republicans aren’t taking chances.

With the contest so close for the state’s 20 electoral votes, Ohio Republican Party Chairman Robert T. Bennett asked for help from party officials and activists across the country. Both parties in Ohio have recruited hundreds of lawyers to monitor disputes and to go to court where necessary.

About 1 million new Ohio voters have been registered, most of them by so-called “527” groups that recruited in heavily Democratic precincts in the urban centers of the state. Because of clerical errors or Election Day confusion, it is expected that many of those new voters will end up casting provisional ballots.

Republicans say Bush strategist Karl Rove has been directing an under-the-radar operation in the 57 rural counties that gave Mr. Bush an Ohio win in 2000 despite his losing Cleveland and Cuyahoga County by more than 160,000 votes.

Those counties contain a large share of Ohio’s evangelical Christian voters, who are expected to turn out to vote on a proposed state constitutional amendment that effectively would ban same-sex “marriage” as well as civil unions.

Polls indicate that nearly 60 percent of Ohio voters would approve the amendment, known as Issue 1, and the ballot issue has helped mobilize conservatives in the state.

The Ohio Campaign to Protect Marriage, for example, mailed 2.5 million bulletin inserts to churches in the state, urging a “yes” vote. Every vote cast for the amendment also is a vote for Mr. Bush, says Mr. Blackwell, who supports the Ohio amendment.

“The churches did a very good job themselves in registering new voters,” Mr. Blackwell said. “And they didn’t mail those new signatures in — they brought them in to county election officials.”

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