-By Robert Barnes
August 27, 2012- The decision could mean that thousands of votes that otherwise would have been rejected — most of them cast in urban areas where Democrats are concentrated — will have to be counted.
“Recent experience proves that our elections are decided, all too often, by improbably slim margins — not just in local races . . . but even for the highest national offices,” U.S. District Judge Algenon L. Marbley wrote. “Any potential threat to the integrity of the franchise, no matter how small, must therefore be treated with the utmost seriousness.”
The legal fight is probably not over. “We respectfully disagree with the judge’s ruling and will likely appeal,” said Matt McClellan, a spokesman for Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R).
It is one of several contentious voting issues in Ohio, which has a history of close presidential elections, partisan battles to control whose votes are counted, and litigious interest groups and politicians.
Among other issues, the Obama campaign is suing over a decision by the Republican-controlled legislature to curtail early voting in the state. Democrats are incensed about Husted’s decision that weekend voting before the November election should not be allowed. And a conservative voting rights group is threatening to sue to remove what it says are questionable registrations among the state’s more than 7.7 million voters.
Marbley’s decision, which relied in part on the Supreme Court’s 2000 ruling in Bush v. Gore, concerned a subset of votes called provisional ballots. Such ballots are cast when a voter has some irregularity — a lack of proper ID, a name change not recorded, a missing entry on the voter rolls — that keeps him or her from filing a regular ballot. Local boards of elections then must decide whether to count them.
The civil rights group Advancement Project, the Service Employees International Union and others challenged a part of Ohio state law that says provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct should not be counted, even if the voter was following a poll worker’s instructions.