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Ohio Vote Questions Delay Election Decision

The 2004 presidential race came down to a question of provisional ballots in Ohio.

The sun came up over an Ohio facing the prospect of weeks of uncertainty. The Columbus Dispatch newspaper screamed a one-word headline across it's front page: Cliffhanger.

President Bush easily carried the state in Tuesday night's vote counting. At the end of the evening, he led by 136,000 votes. But there was a large question mark hanging over that outcome. More than 154,000 provisional ballots were not counted. Could they tip the balance in Senator Kerry's favor?

Provisional ballots are cast by voters who have moved, whose names may not show up on registration rolls, or who are told they are ineligible. By law, such ballots are held for 10 days while workers confirm their validity. Then those that are accepted are counted.

As Democrats looked at the possibility of challenging the result, and Republicans claimed victory, Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell counseled calm.

"If the number of votes that make up the difference between the two candidates is fewer than the number of provisional ballots, then I would say everybody should just take a deep breath and relax because we are not going to start counting those ballots until the 11 day after this election," he said.

That proved unnecessary. The point became moot when Senator John Kerry's camp announced he would accept the result and concede defeat in Ohio.

Ohio Republican Congressman Bob Portman said Senator Kerry realized he had no real chance of changing the outcome on the strength of provisional ballots.

"There are 154,000 provisional ballots because we have talked to every board of elections all around the state, they have all come in, and we have a 136,000 vote margin, so if you assume that 90 percent of them are valid, and assume that 90 percent go to John Kerry, which is very unlikely, given that a lot of these counties that are coming in are Republican counties, even if that were to happen he would be 10,000 votes short."

So as quickly as Ohio became the center of national attention over provisional ballots, the state fell into the Bush column when Senator Kerry conceded defeat.

Fears that Ohio would become the Florida of 2004, where in 2000 the final election outcome hung in the balance for weeks, in the end proved unfounded.