Rivals begin to skirmish over balloting

The New York TimesNovember 5, 2012 

— President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney hunted for last-minute support on Sunday in a frenetic sprint across battleground states even as their parties faced off in the first of what could be a growing number of legal disputes over presidential ballots and how they are counted.

In Florida, the state’s Democratic Party filed a lawsuit on Sunday morning that would force the Republican-led government to extend early voting in South Florida after complaints about extremely long lines on Saturday that prevented some people from casting their ballots. The Republican-controlled state legislature cut back early voting, which ended Saturday, from 14 days to eight.

The lawsuit was followed by a chaotic day in the Democratic stronghold of Miami-Dade County, which opened one of its election offices for two hours to accept completed absentee ballots, then shut down only to reopen again Sunday afternoon. Three counties said they would open again today, but Democratic lawyers will continue to argue in court that in-person early voting should continue through Tuesday in Broward County.

In Ohio, Republican election officials will go to court today to defend an 11th-hour directive to local election officials that critics charge could invalidate thousands of provisional ballots by forcing voters to attest to the type of identification they provide.

Together, the pre-election legal skirmishes were a potential preview of the clashes that could emerge in as many as a half-dozen swing states with Tuesday’s voting. The closeness of the races in those states has intensified the stakes of voter turnout, smooth operations at polling places, ballot problems and recounts.

Republicans are mobilizing to defend against what they say is the potential for voter fraud, and Democrats are preparing to protect against what they say are efforts to suppress voting rights.

“The larger issue, in my view, is the scale of the effort that is required to have Election Day run smoothly,” said Robert Bauer, the chief counsel for Obama’s campaign. “Any number of things can go wrong, not by anybody’s fault or intention, but we are fully prepared and so, we believe, are election officials around the country.”

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