In Ohio, Voter Registration Conflict Is Brewing

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Early voting starts Tuesday in Ohio, but that doesn't mean that the process will go smoothly.

On Monday, state courts rejected a Republican Party challenge to the right of voters to register and vote the same day. Five lawsuits have been filed against Ohio's secretary of state in September alone.

Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner says fighting the lawsuits is expensive and time-consuming, but her primary goal remains to restore confidence in the electoral process. She says the 2004 election left people with many doubts.

There are grumblings in every election, Brunner says. But four years ago, the secretary of state was also a co-chair for George Bush's Ohio campaign.

"So when problems occurred, as they would with a 75 percent turnout, people started assigning nefarious motives to why those things had occurred," she said.

Brunner has pledged complete transparency in the election process this time and issued details on procedures well in advance of Nov. 4. So far, it hasn't slowed the flood of litigation.

Lawsuits Surrounding Ohio Voting

One of the lawsuits deals with a law adopted in 2005 that requires election officials to send out notices to voters 60 days before an election. As many as 600,000 of the notices were returned as undeliverable.

Michael Slater, with the nonprofit group Project Vote, says: "Mail delivery in urban areas, primarily urban low-income areas, is unreliable. So that we can't be sure that just because someone has a piece of mail returned to them, it doesn't mean that they don't live at that address."

That's why Brunner has decided that a returned notice isn't enough to sustain a challenge against a voter.

In 2004, Republicans challenged 35,000 voters based on returned mail. John McClelland of the Ohio GOP declined to be interviewed for this story, saying they don't discuss political strategy. Slater says the 2005 law is one of many his group has fought in the past few years.

"I think what we're seeing today in 2008 is just kind of the tail end of a whole wave of litigation to challenge restrictive laws that occurred in the wake of 2004," Slater said.

Suits have been filed in Ohio this year over absentee voting and registration drives. There are pending lawsuits over voting procedures in all of the battleground states including Michigan, Florida, Colorado and New Mexico. Law professor Dan Tokaji from Ohio State University says it is not such a bad thing to clarify the rules in advance of the elections.

Ohio is expecting an 80 percent turnout on Election Day. Brad Smith, the former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, says no matter what happens in the days before Nov. 4, the real law is "whatever you can get one judge to do" that day.

Officials and voters in Ohio are bracing for what could be another bumpy ride.

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