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Storm doesn’t appear to dampen early voting in Ohio

A strong sideswipe from the western edges of Hurricane Sandy did not appear to have a significant impact on early voting in all-important Ohio this week.

Though much of the state did experience a nasty fall storm as a result of Sandy, including areas of snow, rain and high wind that caused some damage and power out­ages in the Cleveland area, party and elections officials said they did not expect voting to be slowed.

Only one county — Erie County, on the shores of Lake Erie — reported a power outage at its early-voting site Tuesday morning. An election official said the start of voting for the day was delayed from 8 to 10:20 a.m. Voters have been mailing in absentee ballots and voting in person since Oct. 2.

According to the Ohio secretary of state, more than 1.2 million Ohioans had voted, either by mail or in person, as of Friday. That figure represented more than 20 percent of the total votes cast in the 2008 race.

Campaign officials for Mitt Romney and President Obama have engaged in a vigorous spin war over which side has been doing better among early voters, who do not register by party, making independent analysis more difficult.

The presidential campaign is heading into the final stretch, and the contest remains deadlocked nationally.

Most public polling has indicated that early voters in Ohio favor Obama by a wide margin, and Democrats have been pushing the practice especially aggressively, so any weather-related slowdown probably would have concerned Democrats.

Instead, several key Ohio counties reported especially brisk business at their early-voting centers Monday as the storm bore down. Franklin County, home to heavily Democratic Columbus, had its busiest day Monday since voting began, as did the swing county of Hamilton, home to Cincinnati.

Cuyahoga County, a Democratic stronghold that includes Cleveland, had its second-busiest day Monday. On Tuesday, voting started on time in Cleveland, although the morning was a bit slower than mornings have been in recent days.

Total in-person early-vote tallies for Cuyahoga are running slightly behind the counties’ total at the same time before the 2008 election, but Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern said he was not concerned.

“These are folks who spend 31 / 2 hours sitting in the Dawg Pound at a Cleveland Browns game in December,” he said. “A little bit of rain, a little bit of freezing rain, won’t keep us from the polls.”

Still, Redfern said he was pleased that a court decision over early voting had been settled in the Democrats’ favor, requiring polls to be open this weekend.

Rosalind Helderman is a political enterprise and investigations reporter for the Washington Post.

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