Could Ohio be the new 'hanging chad' state? With provisional ballots, maybe

COLUMBUS, Ohio - You remember the phrase "hanging chads."

The battle for the presidency of the United States in 2000 was marred by voting problems in Florida. Multiple lawsuits were filed. Recounts started and stopped. U.S. Supreme Court decisions were rendered, and George W. Bush wasn't declared the winner until more than a month after the Nov. 7 election.

Could Ohio be the next "hanging chad" state?


Here's how:  

The vast majority of Ohio's nearly 8 million registered voters were mailed an absentee ballot application by Secretary of State Jon Husted's office. Historically, absentee ballot applications were mailed to everyone in only a few of Ohio's 88 counties, and to voters that requested one. That changed when Husted insisted on uniformity across the state.

If a voter filled out the application and received an absentee ballot, but didn't complete and mail it, they still have a chance to vote. They can still go to the polls on Election Day.

And that's where the problems start.

On Election Day, voters who received an absentee ballot but didn't mail it in, will have to cast provisional ballots. Provisional ballots can't even be opened until 10 days after the election, much less counted, and there may be plenty to count.

According to , about 1.3 million absentee ballots were mailed out, but only 950,000 have been completed and returned. That leaves 350,000 potential provisional ballots that could be cast on Election Day.

While it's not likely that all 350,000 incomplete absentee ballot holders will show up Nov. 6 and cast provisional ballots, it's still a large segment of voters. It's a large enough number to put in question who the winner in Ohio is. With 18 of the most important electoral votes in the entire election at stake, provisional votes counted days after the election could make a difference in who wins the presidency.

Not counted with the 350,000 potential provisional ballots from absentee voters who show up to the polls, are the absentee voters who don't mail their ballots until Nov. 5, the cut-off date.

And that number does not take into account others who will be required to cast provisional ballots because of questions about their voting eligibility.

About two of every three voters in Ohio turned out in the last presidential election year of 2008. says even if there are only 250,000 provisional votes to be counted, that could amount to nearly five percent of the vote.

Polls in Ohio often show President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney  tied or within just a point or two of each other. If nearly 5 percent of the vote is contained in provisional ballots and has to be counted later, it could swing the race for either candidate.

And if Ohio's 18 electoral votes are as important in determining the winner as they have been in recent history, the country and the world could be in for a long wait. And "provisional ballots" could replace the "hanging chad" as the symbol of a state that couldn't count its votes on time, or correctly.

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