-- A federal appeals court ruled Saturday that the provisional ballots Ohio voters cast outside their precincts should not be counted, throwing out a lower-court decision that said such ballots are valid as long as they are cast in the correct county.

The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit supports an order issued by Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell. Democrats contend that the Republican official's rules are too restrictive and allege that they are intended to suppress the vote.

Ohio Democrats late Saturday decided not to file an appeal in the case, one of the first major tests of how such ballots will be handled in a close election. Polls show that the race between President Bush and Democratic challenger John F. Kerry is too close to call in the key swing state.

Federal judges in several states have issued varying rulings on the issue of provisional ballots, which are intended to be backups for eligible voters whose names do not appear on the rolls. Saturday's ruling was the first time a federal appeals court has weighed in.

The Ohio Democrats had filed a lawsuit challenging Blackwell's directive instructing county election boards not to give ballots to voters who come to the wrong precinct and to send them to the correct polling place on Election Day.

Blackwell has said that allowing voters to cast a ballot wherever they show up, even if they are not registered to vote there, is a recipe for chaos. The Ohio Democratic Party and a coalition of labor and voter rights groups had argued that Blackwell's order discriminates against the poor and minorities, who tend to move frequently.