Friday, October 29, 2004

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Republicans lost an attempt yesterday to restart hearings on thousands of voter registrations the party has contested, and the court’s decision could mean the hearings will never be held.

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati turned down several Republican appeals, clearing the way for a lower-court judge to decide whether to extend her temporary order stopping the hearings. The action could prevent the hearings from ever taking place because they must be held within two days of the election, state Republicans have said.

Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro, who filed one of the appeals, said stopping the hearings “has just thrown Ohio’s electoral process into disarray, and has opened the door to voter fraud.”

A new challenge arose Thursday over the presence of polling-place witnesses who can question voters’ identities. In federal court in Akron, the Summit County Democratic Party sued the state to block those witnesses, saying voters who end up being disqualified are unconstitutionally denied the right to appeal in time to cast their ballots.

Democrats and Republicans have signed up thousands of polling-place representatives, although Democrats say they do not plan to challenge registrations and will monitor the conduct of Republican representatives.

Ohio Republican Party spokesman Jason Mauk said the lawsuit challenging the polling-place representatives was an attempt by Democrats to win the election in the courts.

State Democratic spokesman Dan Trevas said the state party, which is not part of the lawsuit, supported the idea of removing the witnesses “if this makes the process run more smoothly.”

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