The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit ruled yesterday that Republicans could not challenge 35,000 voter registrations, upholding a lower court ruling.

The GOP's fallback plan -- to challenge voters at the polls on Election Day -- was the subject of a lawsuit in federal court that was pending last night.

Hoping to put an end to the tangle of litigation, Republican Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell yesterday asked Ohio's Republican attorney general, Jim Petro, to tell the federal court that challengers of all parties would be barred from polling places.

Democrats had alleged that the challenges were disproportionately aimed at minority voters. Blackwell, who is black, said that he did not believe that "there was discriminatory intent."

But Petro refused to comply with Blackwell's request. With the question still in the hands of a federal court, the GOP said last night that it is still prepared to put challengers at the polls.

"Right now, the law allows challengers," Republican lawyer David Weaver said. "Everyone's waiting to see what happens next."

-- Jo Becker

Military Voting Rules Enhanced

For the first time, military personnel and their dependents stationed in the United States will be able to use a federal write-in ballot if they do not receive an absentee ballot from their states by Election Day.

A provision in the 2005 defense authorization act, which President Bush signed Thursday, extends this privilege to all "uniformed services voters" absent from their homes. Previously, only those overseas could use the federal ballot.

Key Democrats on the Armed Services Committee supported the provision, congressional aides said. The House agreed to it during negotiations with the Senate. To be eligible to use the ballot, a member of the military must show that a timely application for a state absentee ballot had been made.

The change could help those deployed on submarines for long periods, and soldiers wounded in Iraq and returned to military hospitals in the United States, said Samuel Wright, director of the military voting rights project for the National Defense Committee, a veterans organization.

In Harrisburg, Pa., yesterday, a federal judge approved an agreement extending by eight days the deadline for counting overseas military and civilian presidential ballots in Pennsylvania. The agreement had been reached between Gov. Edward G. Rendell (D) and the parents of two servicemen who sued for the extension.

Robert J. Reitz Sr., who sued on behalf of his son, said the new Nov. 10 deadline still may not leave enough time for Army Spec. Steven J. Reitz to return the ballot he received Thursday in Baghdad. But he said the additional time may benefit others. Rendell said he would seek the same extension for voting in state races.

-- Dan Morgan