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Election Day lawsuits in key states sought to extend deadlines to count absentee ballots and to clarify rules for evaluating provisional, or backup, votes. In Ohio, a suit filed before polls closed asked a federal judge to force the state’s Republican chief election official to rework rules for counting provisional ballots. Several hundred thousand people will probably cast provisional ballots in Ohio Tuesday, said the suit filed by an individual Cincinnati voter, and those ballots could decide the election if it is close, the suit said. The Florida suit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, asked that absentee ballots mailed within the United States be subject to the same deadline, Nov. 12, as overseas ballots. In Pennsylvania, Republicans went to federal court to get a list of everyone who received an absentee ballot and to ask for more time to investigate whether any absentee ballots are illegitimate. Large numbers of absentee ballots, counted after the regular tallies are in, are a possible wild card in the presidential race. Provisional ballots, new nationwide this year, are an even bigger question mark. Provisional ballots are intended to help voters who come to the polls but find they are not listed on the rolls, or that their qualifications to vote are in question. Provisional ballots are not counted until after the election — 10 days afterward in Ohio’s case. Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell issued “vague, incomplete and insufficient” directions for evaluating which provisional ballots should count, the lawsuit said. Ohio was the scene of lengthy and complicated legal battles over provisional ballots and other issues before the election. Plans for counting provisional ballots changed several times, as Blackwell gave conflicting instructions and courts rewrote the rules. Questions about absentee and provisional ballots will probably extend election litigation long past Tuesday’s voting, although it is not clear that any lawsuit will affect the outcome. Earlier Tuesday, a racially charged court fight over Republican tactics ended at the Supreme Court. Justice David Souter refused a black voter’s request to block Republicans from challenging the qualifications of voters in largely minority areas of battleground Ohio. Souter said Ebony Malone’s request was essentially moot because she has since successfully voted without facing a Republican challenge. A federal appeals court had allowed the GOP to mount challenges at the polls to people on a list of 23,000 potentially suspect Ohio voters. The ruling reversed a lower court order that had been in effect for most of Tuesday while thousands of Ohio voters cast ballots. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals did not explain its reasoning. The emergency request to the Supreme Court was the second such appeal to reach the high court on Election Day. In the early morning hours, Justice John Paul Stevens refused a separate appeal to stop Republican challenges at Ohio polling places. Republicans said they wanted challengers in precincts because of concerns that voters might be registered fraudulently. The GOP pointed to thousands of pieces of political mail sent to newly registered voters that was returned as undeliverable. The issue played out over several days before the election and in several courts in Ohio and elsewhere. Before the latest ruling from the 3rd Circuit, the patchwork of legal rulings meant that Republican challengers could observe voting in potential trouble spots and question some but not all voters. Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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