'We will fight for every vote'

Ohio emerged as the likely setting for another overtime presidential court fight, with the focus this time on tens of thousands of uncounted ballots cast by people who would otherwise have been turned away from the polls.

The Kerry campaign, trailing in the Electoral College count, did not concede the United States election.

“Tonight, we are keeping our word, and we will fight for every vote,” vice-presidential candidate Senator John Edwards said.

Election law specialists said either side could file lawsuits on Wednesday to try to get the best footing for evaluating and counting provisional ballots.

“There are two questions here,” said George Washington University law Professor Spencer Overton.

“One is how to develop uniform standards” for reviewing the ballots, and how generous those standards should be, Overton said.

There is another, even more basic question: Are there enough votes in limbo to jeopardise the lead President George Bush holds over Senator John Kerry in Ohio?

Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell said early on Wednesday that the number of provisional ballots in the state could be as high as 250 000, or much lower.

Jennifer Palmieri, a spokesperson for Kerry in Ohio, said: “We think that a good bit of those voters will be our voters.”

“We think that is more than enough voters to win the state,” Palmieri said.
“Those votes have to be counted before we know who won the state.”

The Bush campaign scoffed at the notion that the uncounted ballots could make a difference in Ohio.

“There are 140 000 provisional ballots. Historically, only 7% to 20% of those would be counted,” said Bush-Cheney communications director Nicolle Devenish. “Even if twice that many end up getting counted, he can’t close the gap of his defeat in the state. It’s desperate.”

Democrats have thousands of lawyers in Ohio already. With polls closed, they considered whether to deploy any of their trained “SWAT teams” of election lawyers, a precaution this year because of the close presidential race and the bitter memory of the 36-day recount battle in Florida in 2000.

Lawyers with nothing to do

Meanwhile, armies of lawyers sent to other battleground states found themselves with little to do.

Even in Ohio, scene of the fiercest legal skirmishing in the days leading to the election, generally smooth voting produced less partisan finger-pointing than expected, and fewer lawsuits.

Florida went handily into Bush’s column before midnight, putting about 3 000 Democratic lawyers largely off duty.

Earlier on Tuesday, lawsuits in key states sought to extend deadlines to count absentee ballots and to clarify rules for evaluating back-up ballots cast by voters who would otherwise get no vote this year.

A Republican-sponsored suit filed before polls closed in Ohio asked a federal judge to force the state’s Republican chief election official to rework rules for counting provisional ballots.

Republicans asked for a guarantee that they could watch, alongside Democrats, as state officials prepare the provisional ballots to be counted. That process will take several days.

Provisional ballots are not counted until after the election—10 days afterward, in Ohio’s case.

They are cast by voters who come to the polls but find they are not listed on the rolls, or that their qualifications to vote are in question.

The lawsuit said Blackwell, the Ohio Secretary of State, issued “vague, incomplete and insufficient” directions for evaluating which provisional ballots should count.

Even before Election Day, Ohio was the scene of lengthy and complicated legal battles over provisional ballots and other issues. Plans for counting provisional ballots changed several times as Blackwell issued conflicting instructions and courts rewrote the rules.

Outside Ohio, the American Civil Liberties Union asked that Florida absentee ballots mailed within the US be subject to the same deadline, November 12, as overseas ballots.

In Pennsylvania, Republicans went to federal court on Tuesday 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.—Sapa-AP

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