From combined dispatches
CINCINNATI — A federal appeals court ruled yesterday that provisional ballots Ohio voters cast outside their own precincts should not be counted, throwing out a lower-court decision that said such ballots are valid as long as they are cast in the correct county.
Meanwhile, reports have surfaced in Florida from early voters who say they have been harassed by campaign workers at polling stations.
The ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals supports an order issued by Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell. Democrats contend the Republican official’s rules are too restrictive and argue they are intended to suppress the vote.
Ohio Democrats last night decided not to file an appeal in the case, one of the first major tests of how such ballots will be handled in a close election. Polls show that the race between President Bush and Sen. John Kerry in the key swing state is too close to call.
Federal judges in several states have issued varying rulings on the issue of provisional ballots, which are intended to be backups for eligible voters whose names do not appear on the rolls. Yesterday’s ruling was the first time a federal appeals court has weighed in.
The state’s Democrats had filed a lawsuit challenging Mr. Blackwell’s directive instructing county elections boards not to give ballots to voters who come to the wrong precinct and to send them to the correct polling place on Election Day.
Mr. Blackwell has said allowing voters to cast a ballot wherever they show up, even if they’re not registered to vote there, is a recipe for Election Day chaos.
The Ohio Democratic Party and a coalition of labor and voter-rights groups had argued that Mr. Blackwell’s order discriminated against the poor and minorities, who tend to move more frequently.
U.S. District Judge James Carr on Oct. 14 blocked Mr. Blackwell’s directive, ruling that Ohio voters who show up at the wrong polling place still can cast ballots as long as they are in the county where they are registered. Mr. Blackwell appealed to the 6th Circuit.
Democrats said they were disappointed by the ruling, but were ready to move on with election preparations.
In Florida, the Sun-Sentinel newspaper of Fort Lauderdale reported yesterday that early Florida voters aren’t being protected by the barrier that keeps campaign workers at least 50 feet away from polling stations, such as is mandated on Election Day.
While the Voter’s Bill of Rights in state law says they have a right to “vote free from coercion or intimidation by elections officers or any other person,” a glitch in the newer early-voting law does not include the same 50-foot guarantee.
As a result, with early voting taking place in busy public places such as city halls and libraries, voters are voicing complaints of being blocked by political mobs, or being singled out for their political views. Others say they have been grabbed, screamed at and cursed by political partisans of all stripes.
Republican Rep. Tom Feeney said the antagonizers are “Kerry thugs” out to harass Bush voters.
“If you ask me whether I believe there is an organized effort to intimidate Republican voters, the answer is absolutely yes,” Mr. Feeney said.
The Republican Party is calling on the Florida Secretary of State’s Office for help, asking that early-voting rules be clarified. The office has not yet responded.
Two state Republican campaign offices in Arizona and Ohio were ransacked this week.
Vandals late Thursday or early Friday smashed a large glass door with a section of cinder block at the Republican Party headquarters in downtown Flagstaff, Ariz.
And the Cincinnati headquarters for the Bush campaign was broken into Friday night. Money and a sign were taken from the office. The thieves got in by breaking out a window.
No one had been arrested in either incident.