Fri, Nov 05, 2004 - Page 4 News List

US Election: Concession prevents legal battle over ballots in Ohio

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Lawyers from both presidential campaigns arrived in Ohio Wednesday morning to find that weeks of preparations for a legal battle over provisional ballots were redundant after Senator John Kerry conceded the race.

The state remained Kerry's last chance to clinch the presidency on election night. President George W. Bush held a 130,650-vote lead in Ohio but Kerry had clung to the hope that a sufficient number of uncounted provisional ballots could overturn Bush's majority there.

But given Bush's lead, Kerry would have needed to win between 70 percent and 80 percent of the remaining ballots and by Wednesday lunchtime he concluded that he was highly unlikely to gain such a margin.

The battle over provisional ballots had promised to be a protracted affair that would have kept the final results in limbo for as long as two weeks. Under Ohio law, the counting of provisional ballots begins 10 days after the election. Provisional ballots are a system designed to protect voters mistakenly dropped from the rolls or otherwise wrongly disqualified. They are most often used when someone has moved and they turn up at a polling place to discover their name is not on the rolls.

Even though they are cast on election day they are set aside, so that the board of elections can check that each voter is in fact eligible. But each county in Ohio has different standards for deciding which vote should be included, which would have prompted fears of an extended legal wrangle between the two sides.

Most of those cast were concentrated in the state's three largest cities, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus, where Democrats fared best. The Republicans, recognizing the possible importance of the provisional ballots, had taken the issue to the courts before polling ended on Tuesday.

A Republican-sponsored lawsuit demanded better ground rules for evaluating the ballots, and a guarantee that they could watch, alongside Democrats, as state officials prepared the provisional ballots to be counted. Republicans would be looking for as tight a definition of eligibility as possible in order to preserve their lead; Democrats would seek as loose an interpretation as possible in order to narrow their deficit.

The row had briefly placed Ohio at the center of an electoral storm, promising a deluge of lawyers and journalists into the state capital of Columbus.

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