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Justices Rule Against Ohio GOP on Voter Issue

By Mary Pat Flaherty and William Branigan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, October 18, 2008

After the U.S. Supreme Court sided yesterday with Ohio's secretary of state in a dispute that jeopardized 200,000 new voter registrations, the Ohio Republican Party said it "believes there are still avenues in the state courts" that could be pursued.

Deputy State Chairman Kevin DeWine said the party would assess whether it can continue its legal efforts, "but I am not prepared to share legal strategies."

The Supreme Court lifted a lower court's order that Democrats said could have disenfranchised voters in a crucial battleground state ahead of next month's elections.

Ohio Republicans had sought to force Democratic Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner to provide county election boards with lists of newly registered voters whose information on forms did not match driver's license or Social Security records. About 200,000 new registrations are in that pool, according to Brunner's office.

The GOP argued that the county boards needed the lists to detect possible registration fraud. Brunner had said that reprogramming the system just weeks before the Nov. 4 election would result in chaos. Until the Supreme Court issued its unanimous ruling, Brunner was under court order to produce lists for counties by yesterday.

With the deadline lifted, Brunner said she will work to upgrade the computer system but did not commit to a timetable. She urged an end to court fights over the lists, saying in a statement, "I ask all involved to stop the legal maneuvers that unnecessarily shake public confidence."

Both sides have said they believe many of the problems with registrations likely stem from typographical errors or address changes. Those kinds of mistakes could have cost voters a chance to have their votes count, Brunner said, "because of federal government red tape, misstated technical information or glitches in databases."

But the GOP also said it fears fraudulent registrations could be getting through and demanded Brunner produce the lists without being ordered to do it. "Do your job," DeWine said.

Since Jan. 1, 666,000 new voters have registered in Ohio.

Under federal law, voters who believe they are registered must be given a provisional ballot on Election Day if discrepancies cannot be resolved. Whether those ballots will be tallied, however, depends on local rules.

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern said the court ruling allowed the state to move on toward the election "without the threat of widespread voter suppression by the GOP."

Republicans stepped up their attacks on Brunner after the decision, with party chair Robert T. Bennett charging that Brunner "has fought every effort to validate hundreds of thousands of questionable registrations" and has failed to set up an adequate verification system.

"The Supreme Court's ruling has not changed that, and we continue to believe Secretary Brunner is neglecting her basic duty," Bennett said.

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