I suppose I should feel a little bit guilty for saying it, particularly on the pages of a politically oriented publication, but I’m pretty tired of this election. It’s been going on roughly since Christmas of 2008 – or at least it feels that way. The GOP primary was actually pretty good this year and it revved up both my interest and enthusiasm far more than the parade of munchkins on both sides four years earlier. But once it was done, the whole thing began to feel like one, long tedious slog through the summer and an exhausting swamp march to just get it all over with. But now we’re only about ten days from the finish line and – hopefully – the beginning of Mitt Romney’s turn to see if we can’t turn this country around and get everyone back to work. So one week from this Tuesday night we can all breath a sigh of relief and just get back to our lives, right?
Maybe not, at least according to Alex Roraty. In addition to possible – though unlikely – recount scenarios, provisional ballots could tie things up in knots.
A court ruled that Pennsylvania’s strict new voter-ID law can’t take effect until after the election, for instance. Restrictions on groups that register voters in Florida were reversed, and Colorado’s secretary of state largely backed off a plan to force suspected noncitizens to provide proof of eligibility.
But several battlegrounds are notable exceptions. Virginia now requires voters to provide some kind of proof of identification, whether a driver’s license or utility bill. That’s a broader range of acceptable forms than most proposed voter-ID laws, but voters could still show up at the polls without any identification on hand. In that case, they’ll have to cast a provisional ballot and prove their identity later — a headache if officials are trying to determine the winner of a close race in their state.
Even more so than Virgina, Doug Mataconis notes that Ohio may have a huge and lengthy sorting process for absentee and provisional ballots.
The state where there could be a big Provisional Ballot problem, though, is Ohio where Secretary of State Jon Husted sent an application for an Absentee ballot to every registered voter in the state. According to his office, some 1.4 million voters returned the application and were mailed an Absentee Ballot. That number may increase since voters have until November 3rd to request an Absentee Ballot. So far, about 620,000 of those Absentee ballots have been returned and, under Ohio law, they must be postmarked no later than November 5th and received no later than ten days after Election Day in order to be counted. Here’s where things get complicated though. Under the law, if someone who has requested an Absentee Ballot shows up at their polling place on Election Day, they are required to cast a Provisional Ballot. The reasons for this are rather obvious,, of course. Once it’s been noted in a person’s voting record that they have requested an Absentee Ballot, there’s no way for the people at the poling place to know if they had already cast that ballot, or if it had been placed in the U.S. Mail prior to Election Day. The Provisional Ballot is intended to make sure that someone isn’t improperly voting twice, and it makes sense. Under the law, though, those Provisional Ballots cannot be counted before November 17th. So, if Ohio ends up being so close that the margin between the candidates is less than the number of Provisional Ballots cast (not to mention the unknown number of Absentee Ballots postmarked by November 5th and received by November 16th), then we may not actually know who won Ohio for at least ten days after the Election. Since many analysts see Ohio as the key to an Electoral College victory, that means it’s possible that we wouldn’t know who the next President is until some time just before Thanksgiving.
I tend to agree that recounts in most of the battleground states, while certainly possible, probably wouldn’t hold up a decision. The only time that’s going to happen is if one of the states in question is locking up enough electoral college votes to stop both candidates from getting to 270. And I think we’re at a reasonable level of certainty that we won’t see a 269-269 tie either. (The third scenario brought up by Roraty.) But the one state with the combination of many EC votes and lots of paper ballots to count is certainly Ohio. I saw yet another poll this morning showing the Buckeye State tied up at 49% each. If it plays out closely enough that the provisional and absentee ballots will carry the day, we’re in for a long wait full of hyperbolic screaming. And as much as I despise the idea, Obama and Romney truly are running to be President of Ohio at this point. There are almost no scenarios where either man gets a clear, well defined victory on the evening of November 6th without carrying that state.
So stock up on coffee aspirin. We may have a ways further to go than we thought.