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Court in Ohio Clears Way for Voting Challengers

However, aside from small problems, the election has gone smoothly, he said.

"It's been surprisingly quiet in terms of challenges given the brouhaha in the courts that led up to this election," he said. "We were all expecting a much rougher election day."

Early voters wait in line for the polls to open at Whetstone Recreation Center in Columbus, Ohio. (Jay LaPrete - AP Photo)

_____From Ohio_____
Audio: The Washington Post's James Grimaldi reports on the voting situation in the battleground state of Ohio.
_____Court Documents_____
Ruling in Ohio (Findlaw Links)

Burke said that county elections officials were also abiding by a federal court ruling in New Jersey overnight that banned the Republicans from using a list of 35,000 names of people whose voter registration postcards had been returned. The judge was acting on a motion filed by Democrats to enforce a nation-wide consent decree signed by officials of the Republican National Committee in the 1980s.

U.S. District Judge Dickinson R. Debevoise, who had overseen the consent decree, ruled that the Ohio challenge list was geared toward primarily minority communities and was an attempt to deter qualified voters from the polls. A panel of judges from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals at midnight upheld the ruling and the Republican National Committee has a motion pending with the full appeals court.

The Ohio Republican Party said the New Jersey decision was not binding on it, but Democratic observers here said it appeared that challengers were not using any lists at the polls.

Long lines and a steady rain appeared to offer more of a problem for voters, some of whom waited for 45 minutes to an hour in an attempt to vote before heading to work.

Eartha Jones, 50, arrived before the polls opened at 6:30 a.m. to cast her ballot at the Bond Hill Community Center in a black, middle-class neighborhood.

"The lines were real long, but that's a beautiful thing," Jones said, "just to see all these people."

At the Bond Hill site, more than a dozen Democrats swarmed around the polls, while no Republican challengers were seen. Inside, retired federal magistrate Jack Sherman, 66, a volunteer for the Kerry campaign, spent more time arranging voters into lines for the correct precinct than watching the election judges.

"I'm more of a traffic cop," Sherman said. "I'm amazed at the onslaught of people. We're trying to make sure everyone gets a chance to vote."

Sherman was joined inside by a New York City attorney, Steve Froot, a volunteer whose day job is working for Boies, Schiller & Flexner, the firm of David Boies, a leading attorney representing Al Gore in Florida's election deadlock four years ago.

"There is one Republican here," Froot joked, "and he's tied up and gagged in the closet."

Outside, Cincinnati City Councilman David Pepper was accompanied by about half a dozen Kerry volunteers – including two from San Francisco -- wearing white rain slickers saying "Voting Rights Team." The volunteers answered questions for those turned away at the polls. Pepper called the Republican effort intimidation and "shameful."

Members of the NAACP-sponsored group Election Protection were also at the polling site.

Many voters said they turned out because of the tight election and because the importance of the vote had been made clear, particularly in the black community. "They were daydreaming to think they were going to try to scare people," said Robert Mayes, 52, who waited 45 minutes to vote. "I had no doubt it would be a very strong turnout."

Local black radio stations in Cincinnati were expected to hear from a host of prominent politicians and black leaders, including former president Clinton, Democratic National Committee member Donna Brazille, Rev. Jesse Jackson and actress Alfre Woodard, said Corey Ealons, a spokesman for the Kerry campaign.

Ealons complained that there were not enough voting machines, particularly at the downtown library, where many young African American voters lived. "These are people used to getting their MTV and Big Macs in five minutes," Ealons said.

But Kathy Meyer, an administrative assistant for the Hamilton County Board of Elections, said that Cincinnati voters were "spoiled rotten because they don't like to wait in line." She said the county has one machine per 100 voters, two and a half times per voter more than required by law.

Several voters said the lines were the longest they had ever seen. One complained to election judge Leroy Ferrell that she had never seen lines like this. Ferrell replied, "We've never had an election like this."

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