Vote Count ‘Nightmare’ Possible in Ohio

Leah Barkoukis

11/2/2012 7:30:00 PM - Leah Barkoukis

Ohio Gov. John Kasich thinks the Buckeye State will be called by the end of the night and Karl Rove predicts that we’ll wake up to a winner (Mitt Romney) on Nov. 7. But if the all-important Ohio is what this race comes down to – neither scenario will pan out if the provisional ballot “nightmare” in the Buckeye State comes true.

For the first time in Ohio’s history, absentee ballot applications were automatically mailed out to nearly all (6.9 million of the 7.8 million) registered voters in the state regardless of whether or not the voter requested one.    

Ohio’s current secretary of state, Republican Jon Husted, pushed for the absentee-ballot applications to go out to all voters, according to Blackwell.

In previous Ohio elections, a few counties would automatically send out absentee-ballot applications to all their residents, while the vast majority of counties would not. Husted sought to make the absentee ballot process uniform across Ohio’s 88 counties.

In a news release, Husted said the new system would “help reduce the chance of long lines at the polls during the presidential election, and voters in smaller counties will have the same conveniences as voters in larger counties.”

If a voter returned the absentee ballot application but fails to send in the actual absentee ballot, they can't just decide to show up at the polls on Election Day and vote 'normally'. If they do, they will be required to cast a provisional ballot, which is ordinarily used if eligibility can’t be determined on the spot – perhaps the signature doesn’t match up or the person is not on the voter rolls. In this case, however, the provisional ballots will be used as a precaution against people voting twice. The downside of the process is that provisional ballots can’t be opened until 10 days after the election – a big problem if there are enough ballots to possibly decide the state.  

As of Oct. 26, Ohio election officials had mailed out 1.3 [million] absentee ballots. Of those absentee ballots, 950,000 had been completed and mailed back in.

That leaves some 350,000 absentee ballots that had been requested and sent to voters, but had not yet been received. […]

Ordinarily, the number of provisional ballots outstanding in Ohio probably would be inconsequential. In 2008, according to the Enquirer, only about 70,000 were actually cast. 

But uncertainly over perhaps a quarter-million votes would be a serious concern in Ohio, given the historically close margins of victory there.

Democrat Jimmy Carter carried Ohio by only about 11,000 votes over incumbent Republican President Gerald Ford in 1976. In 2004, GOP President George W. Bush carried the state by 118,775 votes over Democratic Sen. John Kerry, in a controversial finish that occurred during Blackwell’s tenure as secretary of state. […]

If the voter turnout in Ohio matches the 2008 level of 67 percent, some 5,226,000 votes would be cast. Under that scenario, 250,000 provisional ballots would amount to 4.8 percent of the entire vote — well over the current difference between the two candidates, according to Real Clear Politics poll average.

Of course, there’s no way of knowing ahead of Election Day just how many provisional ballots will need to be counted. But in the event it’s a significant number – enough to put a hold on calling Ohio and perhaps the entire race – it will most certainly “bring to mind the historic 2000 post-election battle in Florida.” Kenneth Blackwell, Ohio’s former secretary of state, told Newsmax that in the event the ‘nightmare’ happens, “You’re talking about craziness for 10 days.” I think it's safe to say that's an understatement.