Ohio voters who did not receive absentee ballots on time can cast provisional ballots at the polls, a federal judge in Toledo ruled Tuesday.
The decision by U.S. District Court Judge David Katz reverses an earlier directive by Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell who said voters could not cast provisional ballots despite not receiving their absentee ballots.
Blackwell spokesman Carlo LoParo said he had no comment until he was able to read the ruling.
Lucas County resident Sarah White sued elections officials with help of the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights (search), a San Francisco-based group, on behalf of Ohio voters who claim they did not receive absentee ballots requested before the Oct. 31 deadline.
It was unclear how many voters were affected, but the leader of the group that helped file the lawsuit said several people claimed they hadn't received the absentee ballots they requested, which is why the group sought a statewide ruling.
Provisional ballots are counted days after the election if officials verify that the voter was legally registered and in the correct precinct.
Katz's order directs Blackwell to notify all Ohio boards of elections within 30 minutes of the 3:01 p.m. ruling that they must give provisional ballots to voters who ask for one regardless of whether they previously asked for an absentee ballot.
The federal Help America Vote Act requires that people who claim to be eligible voters must be allowed to cast provisionals regardless of the reason they are not on the rolls or are challenged. Elections officials can determine if the ballots are legal later, the judge wrote in the four-page order.
According to court documents, White is an 18-year-old student who works two jobs and takes a full load of classes. She said she could not travel home to Toledo to vote and requested an absentee ballot Oct. 1 that she never received despite verifying that the elections board had received her request well before the deadline.
White said the board later told her the ballot was mailed to the wrong address in Columbus and that she would not be able to vote if the ballot was not redirected to her on time.
"I understand how important my right to vote is, and how necessary it is to exercise that right," White said in court papers.
Paula Hicks-Hudson, director of Lucas County Board of Elections, said the board began distributing provisional ballots after the ruling. She hoped there was enough time for the people it affected before the polls close at 7:30 p.m.
Of Ohio's 8 million registered voters, an estimated 598,000 people requested absentee ballots, according to an Associated Press survey of the state's 88 counties.
Ohioans can vote by absentee ballot if they are 62 or older, will be absent from the county on election day, will be in the hospital or have a family member in the hospital, are too ill to go to the polls or are an employee of the Secretary of State or a local board of elections.
Rob Melchiorre, 22, of Cincinnati, said he was told not to use an absentee ballot with Ralph Nader's name after courts prohibited the independent presidential candidate from being on Ohio's ballot. But Melchiorre said he never received a new absentee ballot.
He said he wouldn't be able cast a provisional ballot because he is a student at Ohio State University and couldn't drive down to Cincinnati.
"I wanted to vote. I thought my opinion deserves to be counted and it's not," he said.
— The Associated Press
Trouble in Pennsylvania?
Problems were already being reported in Pennsylvania, FOX News has learned, with the state GOP calling for some voting machines to be impounded because Republicans said there were votes cast on them before the polls officially opened.
Philadelphia Mayor John Street told FOX News that those charges were false. And City Commissioner Marge Tartaglione, the official responsible for overseeing elections there, issued a statement.
"Recent press reports have stated that machines in at least one precinct were not properly calibrated to ensure an accurate accounting of the number of votes cast. These allegations are completely unsubstantiated and have no factual basis whatsoever," the statement read.
The state Republican Party told FOX that four voting machines at four different polling locations were found to have more than 1,500 votes already registered on them, and wanted the machines confiscated for inspection.
Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abrahams said that at least one of the machines in question didn't have implanted votes on it, and the counter on it just showed the total number of votes cast on it since it was installed.
The Kerry camp disputed reports that voter machines were delivered to polling places this morning in the Philadelphia area with votes already on them, FOX News has learned.
Kerry campaign spokesman Phil Singer said "allegations that voting machines in Philadelphia turned up with votes already cast in them have been disproven," saying that three city election officials apparently misread some numbers as they were setting up the machines Tuesday morning.
FOX News' Todd Connor and Carl Cameron contributed to this report.
Federal Court OKs Ohio Poll Challengers
Giving a pre-dawn Election Day boost to the GOP, a federal appeals court early Tuesday cleared the way for political parties to challenge voters' eligibility at Ohio polling places. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to step in.
Overturning the orders of two federal judges, a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (search) ruled 2-1 early Tuesday that the presence of Election Day challengers was allowed under state law. It granted emergency stays that will allow Republicans and Democrats one challenger per precinct each.
Plaintiffs' appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court were unsuccessful. Early Tuesday, Justice John Paul Stevens (search), who handles appeals from Ohio, refused a request to stay the 6th Circuit decision.
Republicans say they wanted challengers in many polling places because of concerns about fraud. Democrats have accused the GOP of trying to suppress Democratic turnout. Hundreds of thousands of voters have been newly registered in a state President Bush and Sen. John Kerry both say they need to win.
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The 6th Circuit judges said that while it's in the public interest that registered voters cast ballots freely, there is also "strong public interest in permitting legitimate statutory processes to operate to preclude voting by those who are not entitled to vote."
Smooth and effective administration of the voting laws means that the rules can't be changed hours before the election, they said.
The dissent by Judge R. Guy Cole (search ) said the Ohioans have the right to vote without the "threat of suppression, intimidation or chaos sown by partisan political operatives," and if voting rights are pitted against the possibility of fraud, the court must err on the side of voters.
As voting got under way after 6:30 a.m., Democratic challenger Vicki Lynn Ward sat at the Addison Branch Library in Cleveland while early-arriving voters punched their ballots. She said she was mainly waiting for a Republican challenger to show up.
"I'm just here to ensure that everyone's right to vote is protected — from unnecessary challenges," said Ward. She got the call at 2 a.m. that she would be allowed in the polling place.
Mark Weaver, legal counsel for the Ohio Republican Party, said Republican challengers had been told Monday to show up outside the polls pending the appeals court ruling. "We think the 6th Circuit made the right decision," he said.
David Sullivan, a spokesman for the Ohio Democratic Party, said Democratic challengers would be at the polls to protect voters' rights. He called the ruling "unfortunate" but added, "we were prepared for this outcome."
— The Associated Press
Ohio Marked for Future Fighting
The Ohio GOP's Mark Weaver said Monday that the party was planning to file a temporary restraining order with the Marion County Court of Common Pleas, which is north of Columbus, to stop or try to enjoin certain parties from making misrepresenting phone calls to voters in several counties.
The GOP planned to name the Ohio Democratic Party, the Marion County Democratic Party, the Greene County Democratic Party and the Democratic-leaning group America Coming Together (search ) as defendants.
Weaver said the lawsuit would allege civil conspiracy, fraud and racketeering charges. The racketeering, or RICO, charge was levied because the GOP alleges certain illegal acts were carried out by more than one person.
Weaver said these groups have been placing dozens of phone calls in several counties, telling voters to go to the wrong polling places, and falsely saying they must bring utility bills and other pieces of information to the polls.
He also said one person told the GOP that the origin of one of the phone calls came up on the caller ID, and the call was traced back to the Ohio Democratic Party.
Weaver said the counties where these calls have taken place are "rock-ribbed" GOP counties. He said he's not sure a court will be able to take the appropriate action before Tuesday's vote, but "to know that this is happening and not do anything would have been an injustice."
He also said calls were being placed to people trained by the GOP to be Election Day challengers. These people were told they no longer were needed on Election Day. Weaver characterized these phone calls as another dirty measure.
— FOX News' Jeff Goldblatt contributed to this report.
Compromise in Milwaukee
After battling over as many as 37,000 votes, the Wisconsin Republican Party and the city of Milwaukee have agreed that a list of 5,512 prospective voters with questionable addresses will be sent to poll workers to flag those people when they come to vote.
Those voters will then be asked to fill out a change of address card or registration form and show proof of residency in order to cast a ballot. Those who can not will have to take an oath, and their ballots will be marked as being challenged.
Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman Rick Graber said the Sunday agreement will offer another layer of protection to assure that fraudulently cast votes will not be counted.
A spokesman for the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry said the Democrats had not yet had a chance to see Sunday's agreement.
"Our bottom line is that everyone who is qualified to vote in the state of Wisconsin should be able to do so without harassment," spokesman George Twigg said.
— The Associated Press.
Scene in the States
Many states are facing legal challenges over possible voting problems Tuesday. A look at some of the latest developments:
The Latest Reports
Officials in Boulder County warned that election results might not be available until Wednesday night, saying extra time may be necessary because of a large projected turnout and the use of paper ballots.
"We didn't pick the hare; we picked the tortoise, the slow and steady winning-the-race type of system," said Jim Burrus, a spokesman for the county, known as an enclave of liberal voters.
The county's vote-counting machines bogged down in a recent test, choking on improperly marked ballots.
In Miami-Dade County, hundreds of people waited for hours Sunday to cast ballots during early voting. Many would-be voters saw the line, shook their heads and left.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Postal Service said it would deliver more than 8,000 absentee ballots that were dropped off Saturday at processing centers by elections officials in Broward and Palm Beach counties. For the ballots to count, they must be returned to county offices by Tuesday night. Officials said most were to be sent to local areas, but others were to be sent as far as Las Vegas and New Orleans — and chances were slim those could be returned in time to count.
About 150 absentee ballots returned to Palm Beach County officials were rejected Sunday because voters did not sign envelopes; 19 more were tossed because signatures did not match those on election records.
Democrats have accused Republicans of trying to block thousands of young people's votes, following a request by GOP lawyers to review ballots cast by first-time voters in Oregon's most populous county.
In a letter issued Friday, attorneys for the Oregon Republican Party demanded that ballots cast by voters in Multnomah County who have not provided proof of identification be set aside and challenged if necessary.
Democrats challenged that request Sunday, saying it flies in the face of Oregon law, which does not require voters to show proof of identification when registering.
At stake are the votes of 207,053 first-time voters, of whom 73,226 are between the ages of 18 and 24. Nearly a third live in Multnomah County, which includes Portland, according to Secretary of State Bill Bradbury.
The state Republican Party questioned the validity of another 37,180 addresses of people registered to vote in Milwaukee. The party is demanding that city officials require identification from those voters at the polls. City Attorney Grant Langley described the GOP request as "outrageous." Last week, the party flagged more than 5,600 addresses as inaccurate, but Langley's office found hundreds of them to be correct.
Oct. 30: The Secretary of State's office said that as many as 2,300 Arizonans who registered to vote over the Internet may be missing from voter rolls. County recorders said some voters were rejected because their forms were improperly filled out, and that others appear on the rolls with name variations. Recorders have been instructed to take measures to ensure that properly registered voters are not turned away.
Oct. 28: Republican poll watchers filed a complaint claiming election officials in the Democratic stronghold of Pueblo County failed to require early voters to produce identification.
Oct. 28: The machines that Boulder County uses to count votes bogged down in a recent test, choking on improperly marked ballots and prompting a three-day review to determine the final result.
Oct. 27: As many as 3,700 people have registered to vote in more than one Colorado county this year, nearly two-thirds of them college-age voters, the Denver Post reported. Election officials said they are working to catch double registrations but concede double voting might occur.
Oct. 26: A federal judge left it up to the voters to decide on Election Day whether to change the way Colorado distributes its electoral votes for president. The judge dismissed a lawsuit that challenged a Colorado ballot proposal involving the Electoral College.
Oct. 25: Boulder County officials defended their election system against a privacy lawsuit, saying serial numbers on ballots cannot be used to reveal how an individual voted. Six voters filed a lawsuit last week saying the ballot numbers and bar codes violate their privacy rights.
Oct. 21: The secretary of state issued strict guidelines for poll watchers across the state, limiting each party to one person per station and banning outside groups from sending out teams of lawyers to monitor the election. Parties use poll watchers to keep track of turnout and watch how balloting procedures are performed.
Oct. 20: A company hired by Denver to print and mail absentee ballots failed to send out about 13,000 ballots, but election officials hoped to get them to voters by the end of the week.
Oct. 30: A Republican operative filed suit against a civil rights organization for allegedly neglecting to turn in voter registration forms collected from citizens during a petition drive. The suit, filed on behalf of 11 Floridians, accuses the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now of using the registrations as a ruse to get people to sign a minimum wage petition. ACORN said the suit is politically motivated.
Oct. 28: A state appeals court ruled that Florida acted properly when it adopted a rule for manual recounts in 15 counties that use touch-screen voting machines.
Oct. 26: A judge ruled that state election officials will not be required to process incomplete voter registration forms for the presidential election. At issue are registration forms from voters who do not check a box confirming they are American citizens, even if they sign an oath swearing they are citizens.
Oct. 26: Nearly 300 voters in St. Petersburg received absentee ballots that were missing the second of two pages, Pinellas County elections officials acknowledged. County Elections Supervisor Deborah Clark promised Tuesday to correct the error by Nov. 2. Her office has mailed the inadvertently omitted page to the 293 affected voters, along with an explanation and a postage-paid envelope.
Oct. 25: A judge ruled that Florida's touch-screen voting machines do not have to produce a paper record for use in case a recount becomes necessary. A Democratic congressman had filed the lawsuit, seeking a paper trail or a switch to paper ballots in 15 counties.
Oct. 25: A judge denied a request from a coalition of unions and black groups to add four early voting sites in Duval County, home to Jacksonville.
Oct. 21: A federal judge said the state must reject provisional ballots if they are cast in the wrong precinct — another defeat to Democrats who wanted looser requirements. The ruling is in line with one handed down this week by the state Supreme Court in a similar case.
Oct. 21: Republicans accused Democrats of breaking political money laws in Florida. They said Democrats engaged in cozy arrangements among candidates, unions and outside fund-raising groups as part of an effort to turn out voters. Democrats said the allegation was absurd.
Oct. 21: Tens of thousands of Florida voters may be illegally registered to vote in two states, and more than 1,600 may have cast ballots in Florida and one of two other states in recent elections, the Orlando Sentinel reported in Friday's editions. The Sentinel examination of voting records from Florida, Georgia and North Carolina found more than 68,000 cases in which voters with the same names and dates of birth were registered in two states.
Oct. 28: Nearly 100 Hispanic voters were summoned to a Georgia courthouse to defend their right to vote, based on a complaint that an Atkinson County board ultimately threw out. Three men filed the complaint against 78 percent of the rural county's Hispanics, alleging that a county commissioner had attempted to register non-U.S. citizens to vote.
Oct. 20: A group of international election observers said in a report that Georgia's electronic voting machines should create paper receipts and poll workers should get more training. The report is the result of a visit to Georgia in September by a 20-member team of civic leaders, professors and lawyers from 15 countries.
Oct. 25: Officials denied a request to extend the counting period for absentee ballots that are postmarked before the election but not received until afterward. The decision does not affect military votes. Other ballots received after the close of polls on Election Day cannot be counted under Illinois election law.
Oct. 28: The attorney general said election officials will not count ballots cast in the wrong precincts on election night, but will set them aside in the event of a lawsuit seeking to determine their legality.
Oct. 27: Five voters who sued the secretary of state over a provisional ballots decision did not exhaust administrative remedies, the state argued in court. The plaintiffs, who argue ballots cast in the wrong polling place may dilute properly cast votes, present their arguments later Wednesday.
Oct. 26: Five Republican voters have filed a lawsuit challenging a rule requiring provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct to be counted. A judge was set to hear arguments Wednesday.
Oct. 26: A federal appeals court ruled that provisional ballots cast outside the precinct where a voter resides cannot be counted in Michigan. The ruling followed a similar decision by the same court in an Ohio case over the weekend. It is yet another defeat to Democrats over provisional ballots.
Oct. 21: Top elections officials said they were worried about the ramifications of a court ruling this week on how to handle provisional ballots. They are concerned about voter confusion and whether they will have enough time to provide local clerks with the proper Election Day instructions.
Oct. 29: Media groups asked Minnesota's county auditors to grant journalists complete access to polling places. The request was in response to a new state law that requires journalists to have a written letter of permission from election officials to observe in a polling place.
Oct. 30: Nearly 1,000 people who voted by absentee ballot were asked to recast their votes because the ballots they used lacked the necessary signatures of the election commissioner or a representative. New ballots were sent to voters by overnight mail.
Oct. 25: Two Republican voters asked a Nevada judge to reject a Democrat's request to reopen voter registration based on his claim that his voter application form was destroyed by a GOP-funded group. The Republicans said one voter's complaint should not apply broadly to all voters. Nevada's voter registration deadline was Oct. 2.
Oct. 20: The state's top elections official insisted that exit pollsters for media outlets must stay 100 feet from the polls to ensure "hassle-free, intimidation-free" voting sites. The law is intended to block partisan activity near the polls, but an attorney for news organizations including The Associated Press questioned why it should apply to the media.
Oct. 26: A judge ruled that voters will be able to use electronic voting machines Nov. 2, rejecting an effort to alter the way 3 million residents cast their ballots. The judge said the machines have a long record of being reliable.
Oct. 26: The state Republican Party filed a complaint with the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections, charging election officials coached voters on how to cast a straight Democratic-party ticket. Mecklenburg County is home to Charlotte.
Oct. 21: At least half of North Carolina's National Guard troops in Iraq didn't receive their absentee ballots in time for their votes to be counted, said Lt. Michelle Locke, who helped with voting at a base northeast of Baghdad. Locke, who didn't get her ballot, said troops who wanted to vote in the Nov. 2 general election received special all-write-in ballots that had been sent by the military in case something went wrong.
Oct. 29: Republicans lost an attempt to restart hearings on thousands of voter registrations that the party has contested. The decision by state attorney general refused to comply with the request.
Oct. 28: A former Cincinnati City Council member and her husband sued to stop GOP representatives who plan to challenge voters about their identity and voting qualifications in Hamilton County.
Oct. 26: The secretary of state ordered county election boards to let voters whose registrations are successfully challenged to still cast provisional ballots on Election Day. The order followed the Ohio Republican Party's challenge of the registrations of 35,000 voters last week.
Oct. 26: The U.S. Supreme Court declined to put Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader on the ballot in Ohio.
Oct. 25: Republicans withdrew thousands of challenges to new voter registrations because of errors in their filings apparently caused by a computer glitch. In filing the challenges, the GOP said mail sent to the newly registered voters was returned as undeliverable.
Oct. 21: County elections officials say a court battle over the votes of people who go to the wrong polling place has left them unsure how to train poll workers and what to tell voters about where they can cast ballots. Ohio is the site of an intense, back-and-forth legal battle over provisional ballots.
Oct. 29: A federal judge approved a settlement between Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell and the parents of two servicemen who sued to extend the deadline for counting overseas military and civilian ballots for president.
Oct. 20: Workers taking part in a Republican-funded voter registration drive said they were told to avoid signing up Democrats or people who might vote for John Kerry. The Republican National Committee denied the accusations and suggested that Democrats were orchestrating the charges.
Oct. 20: A health organization that promised flu shots on Election Day in six of South Carolina's poorest counties has drawn criticism from Republicans that the effort is politically motivated. The GOP says some of the targeted counties are Democratic-leaning. The organization denied the allegations and said the mailing was sent to areas with low vaccination rates based on federal data.
Oct. 28: The Justice Department will send out three times as many poll watchers on Election Day than in 2000. The watchers will be looking for difficulties with absentee ballots and the handling of ballots cast in the wrong precinct.
Oct. 30: A review by the Milwaukee city attorney's office found hundreds of addresses that the state Republican Party had claimed were incorrect or nonexistent. The state GOP has asked the Wisconsin Elections Board to remove the names of about 5,600 registered voters from the rolls, claiming addresses listed with city officials are fictitious. The city attorney's office found problems with the GOP's database, but a Republican official said most of the addresses are invalid.
Oct. 29: The state GOP asked the Wisconsin Elections Board to remove the names of about 5,600 people registered to vote in Milwaukee. Republicans said the addresses listed with city officials are fictitious. A board attorney there was not enough time to convene a hearing on the matter.
Oct. 28: The superintendent of Milwaukee schools halted a get-out-the-vote program involving students after complaints were raised about its link to a pro-Kerry organization.
Oct. 28: Milwaukee's election commission threw out a complaint alleging that more than 5,600 addresses on the city's voter rolls may not exist, saying Republicans had not proven the registrations were invalid. GOP officials said they visited 37 of the addresses and took pictures showing vacant lots, a gyro stand and a park. Democrats said typographical errors and old registrations could have accounted for the discrepancies.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.