The federal government asked a judge to give military families and overseas voters in Pennsylvania until after the Nov. 2 election to submit absentee ballots for president because of an ongoing court fight over Ralph Nader's (search) ballot status.

In papers filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Harrisburg, the Justice Department contends Nader's on-again-off-again status caused some counties last month to mail ballots that listed Nader as a candidate while others sent ballots that omitted his name.

The agency asked Judge Yvette Kane to order the state to direct counties to mail corrected ballots to those voters once the state courts resolve whether Nader can run in Pennsylvania.

It also asks that the deadline for submitting those ballots in the presidential election be extended to Nov. 17, or an earlier date if it allows 30 days for the ballots to be sent and returned. It also wants the state to allow those votes to be returned by fax, e-mail or air express.

An extension of the deadline for overseas ballots could delay the tabulation of the presidential vote if the contest for Pennsylvania's 21 electoral votes — the nation's fifth-largest prize — is as close as some polls suggest.

Pennsylvania officials said they would fight the lawsuit.

Lawyers for both sides conferred with Kane by telephone Tuesday, and the judge indicated that she was reluctant to act on the request until after the state courts resolve Nader's status, according to spokeswomen for Gov. Ed Rendell and the judge.

A ruling was expected as early as Wednesday on whether Nader has enough signatures to be listed on the ballot. An appeal to the state Supreme Court was considered likely.

Similar legal disputes involving Nader and late primaries kept officials in at least eight of the nation's 15 swing states from being able to mail absentee ballots by Sept. 19, the date by which officials say ballots would have had to be mailed in order to be returned on time.

Of those states, Ohio and Washington have already extended their deadlines for overseas voters by 10 days or more.