CINCINNATI Twelve years after voting problems delayed the 2000 presidential election results, Ohio, possibly the most pivotal state on the political map, sits at the center of a dispute that once again could put the outcome in limbo for weeks.
Meanwhile, in New Jersey and New York, damage from Hurricane Sandy sent election officials scrambling to create makeshift polling stations and to limit what could be long lines and confusion for hundreds of thousands of people.
New Jersey officials said they will allow voters displaced from their home as a result of the storm to cast ballots by email or fax. But they also created a legal, logistical and political tempest by not requiring displaced people to provide a paper backup to prevent vote fraud.
And in Florida, ground zero 12 years ago in the debate over the counting of disputed ballots, a sense of calm on Monday settled over the election sites set up for voters to cast absentee ballots, following a ruckus on Sunday when officials temporarily shut down a site because of the long lines and hours-long waits.
Tempers flared, people chanted and banged on the windows before officials eventually apologized and allowed voting to resume.
But it is in Ohio, where the polls in the race between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney remain tight, where a key dispute is brewing. It centers on an emergency motion from a labor union and homeless advocacy group asking a federal court to clarify whether Ohio voters who cast provisional ballots or the workers who process them are responsible for incomplete or missing identification information on those ballots.
The ruling, from U.S. District Court Judge Algenon Marbley, will not come in time for Election Day. But he is expected to decide the case by Nov. 17, when Ohio counts provisional ballots.
The case is the result of Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husteds order last week that county elections officials should not accept provisional ballots if they include incomplete information on the type of identification the voter used to obtain the ballot.
The directive is issued to provide uniformity across Ohios 88 county boards of elections, Husted wrote.
At a hearing Monday, Marbley asked for oral arguments from Husteds office on Wednesday and for replies on Thursday from the plaintiffs the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and the Service Employees International Union Local 1199.
They contend that Husteds directive violates a recent court decision on provisional ballots and is contrary to statements made by Husteds legal team at an Oct. 24 hearing. In their filing, the attorneys say the responsibility for writing down a voters form of identification "unambiguously rests squarely with the poll worker under Ohio governing statutes."
In an briefing with reporters Monday night, Husted said state law contradicts itself on whether voters or poll workers should fill in the information. Husted said he and the plaintiff attorneys couldn't agree on how to resolve the dispute before the election. He said "common sense dictates" that voters "would want the ability to complete that process."
Provisional ballots are provided at polling places to voters who cannot verify their identities, or whose names may not appear on the list of registered voters. Once the voters information on the provisional ballots is verified, the provisional ballots are counted after the election.