All eyes are on the battle over early voting in Ohio right now, but while you weren’t looking, a Romney campaign effort to challenge voter registration in Virginia — a key swing state — has been dealt a setback.

Not long ago the conservative media lit up with claims — voting dogs and cats! — that a voter registration group was sending registration forms to deceased relatives, children, those ineligible to vote, and even pets. The cries of “vote fraud” against the group — the D.C. based Voter Participation Center, which focuses on registering unmarried women, minorities and younger voters — were very similar to others we’ve heard from those who are seeking to place tougher conditions on voting.

The Romney campaign wrote a letter to the Virginia attorney general and board of elections asking for a probe into the group. Romney’s team also demanded that all “pre-populated” voter registration applications from the group — i.e, forms that are filled out with names and addresses and sent to people based on a purchased mailing list — get tossed out.

Yesterday, the board of elections denied the Romney campaign’s request for a criminal probe:

Despite an appeal from Republican Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, the Virginia State Board of Elections won’t seek an investigation of an organization that mailed voter registration forms to individuals who are ineligible to vote and, in some cases, to household pets....

During a lengthy Monday meeting, the three-member state board of elections voiced concerns over the number of complaints and the confusion generated by the organization’s mailings. But the board opted not to request a criminal investigation of the flap, saying local registrars can determine whether or not an individual is eligible to vote.

The Romney campaign is claiming a partial victory, because the group has agreed to stop mailing “pre-populated” forms to voters, at least in Virginia. But the group says it had already agreed to this, and in any case, it argues, this won’t slow down their voter registration efforts.

The group had acknowledged that such lists will inevitably result in forms being mailed and filled out with the names of people who are not eligible to vote. The Romney camp had suggested that this amounted to potential criminal activity on the group’s part — but the Virginia board of elections rejected this suggestion. What’s more, the voter registration that had already occurred, thanks to the group’s mailing, will not be voided.

The practical effect of yesterday’s decision is that the group’s efforts to register voters will continue at its current rate. The group tells me that it is set to send out over four million registration applications nationally in coming weeks, again using purchased mailing lists (though the forms will not be filled out in some states).

The broader story here is that the GOP effort to place tighter conditions on voting, to block efforts to register voters, or to sow doubts about the true motives of voting rights groups — all in the name of battling vote fraud — takes many forms, and unfolds within the states, often under the national radar. Yesterday it was dealt a setback in Virginia.