CINCINNATI -- Election Day could launch election month in Ohio, a
weeks-long period in which deadlines for counting provisional or
absentee votes and, if necessary, for a recount could delay the outcome
of the presidential race until early December.
If there is a
recount of the presidential race -- triggered by the victorious
candidate winning by less than one-fourth of 1 percent of the total Ohio
vote -- state officials would have to shorten some timetables
specified in state law to meet the deadline.
Under Ohio election
codes, Secretary of State Jon Husted has until Dec. 7 to certify the
statewide results. Five days later, a recount could begin Dec. 12.
Both dates, however, could be moved up -- and would have to be if a
particularly close race mandates a recount.
In the 2008
presidential election, nearly 5.8 million Ohioans voted. Assuming the
turnout is 6 million this year, which is nearly 52 percent of Ohio's
population, a recount would be required if the winning margin is less
than 15,000 votes -- a figure bigger than the winning edge in 1976, when
Democrat Jimmy Carter defeated President Gerald Ford by only 11,116
votes out of nearly 4.1 million cast.
Husted said while some
races may remain undecided, he expects the winners in the presidential
and other major statewide contests to be known by Wednesday morning.
That hinges, however, on the width of the gap that separates President
Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney, and whether the potentially
hundreds of thousands of provisional and last-minute absentee ballots
-- which will not be counted until at least mid-November -- could close
Even without a recount, those provisional and absentee ballots
could keep the election in doubt until they are counted starting Nov.
Four years ago, about 207,00 provisional votes -- required
when a voter's eligibility is questioned at the polls -- were cast in
Ohio. That number could grow this year as a result of a new state
program in which every registered voter received an absentee
application. That's because anyone who requested an absentee ballot but
did not use it, will have to vote provisionally at the polls. As of Oct.
26, the most recent date for which statewide figures are available,
about 370,000 voters fell into that category.
Tens of thousands of
absentee ballots also may arrive at boards of elections statewide after
Election Day. Provided they were postmarked by Monday's deadline, they,
too, will be counted after Nov. 17.
The resulting pile of
uncounted ballots not only would keep a race as close as the Carter-Ford
campaign in play, but it also could even affect the outcome of a
contest comparable to 2004, when President George W. Bush defeated
Democrat John Kerry in Ohio by about 118,000 votes.
mid-November vote tabulations demand a recount, it must under Ohio law
be completed "not later than six days before the time fixed under
federal law for the meeting of ... presidential electors." Electors in
each state this year will meet Dec. 17, creating a Dec. 11 deadline for
finishing the recount -- one day before the other section of the law
says it could begin.
"There are just too many variables to say
exactly when certain things would happen or when it would be completed,"
said Husted spokesman Matt McClellan. "We can make adjustments to the
schedule if necessary."
Several options could shorten the post-election timetable, McClellan explained.
Dec. 7 is the date by which Husted must certify the result, that could
occur sooner. Ohio's 88 county boards of elections face a Nov. 27
deadline for completing their official counts, so the secretary of state
conceivably could make his certification only a day or two later.
addition, the five-day waiting period for starting a recount may be
waived by both candidates. If either Obama or Romney needs Ohio's 18
electoral votes for victory, there would be tremendous national pressure
to expedite the recount.
"In the interest of getting this done, I
presume both sides would waive the waiting period," said Hamilton
County Democratic Party chairman Tim Burke, who also chairs the county
If that happens, a recount theoretically could
begin as early as Nov. 28, leaving two weeks to complete it in time to
comply with the electors' meeting schedule.
Key dates that will govern how Ohio's presidential vote becomes official
Nov. 6 -- Election Day. Absentee ballots dropped off at county boards
of elections -- not precinct polling places -- by the close of the polls
at 7:30 p.m. will be counted. Provisional votes cast at the polls will
be set aside for 10 days until eligibility issues have been resolved.
Nov. 16 -- Absentee ballots postmarked by Nov. 5 must be received by
county election boards to be included in the official count.
Saturday, Nov. 17 -- First day that boards of elections may begin the official canvass of the Nov. 6 election.
Wednesday, Nov. 21 -- County election boards must begin their official canvass no later than this day.
Tuesday, Nov. 27 -- Election boards must complete official canvass.
Dec. 7 -- Secretary of state's deadline for certification of official
results, which could occur earlier. A recount normally begins five days
after certification, but if candidates waive the waiting period, it
could start sooner.
Tuesday, Dec. 11 -- Recount of presidential election must be completed.
Monday, Dec. 17 -- Ohio's Electoral College electors meet to cast votes for president and vice president.
By Barry M. Horstman, The Cincinnati Enquirer