CINCINNATI -- Election Day could launch election month in Ohio, aweeks-long period in which deadlines for counting provisional orabsentee votes and, if necessary, for a recount could delay the outcomeof the presidential race until early December.
If there is arecount of the presidential race -- triggered by the victoriouscandidate winning by less than one-fourth of 1 percent of the total Ohiovote -- state officials would have to shorten some timetablesspecified in state law to meet the deadline.
Under Ohio electioncodes, Secretary of State Jon Husted has until Dec. 7 to certify thestatewide results. Five days later, a recount could begin Dec. 12.Both dates, however, could be moved up -- and would have to be if aparticularly close race mandates a recount.
In the 2008presidential election, nearly 5.8 million Ohioans voted. Assuming theturnout is 6 million this year, which is nearly 52 percent of Ohio'spopulation, a recount would be required if the winning margin is lessthan 15,000 votes -- a figure bigger than the winning edge in 1976, whenDemocrat Jimmy Carter defeated President Gerald Ford by only 11,116votes out of nearly 4.1 million cast.
Husted said while someraces may remain undecided, he expects the winners in the presidentialand other major statewide contests to be known by Wednesday morning.That hinges, however, on the width of the gap that separates PresidentBarack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney, and whether the potentiallyhundreds of thousands of provisional and last-minute absentee ballots-- which will not be counted until at least mid-November -- could closeit.
Even without a recount, those provisional and absentee ballotscould keep the election in doubt until they are counted starting Nov.17.
Four years ago, about 207,00 provisional votes -- requiredwhen a voter's eligibility is questioned at the polls -- were cast inOhio. That number could grow this year as a result of a new stateprogram in which every registered voter received an absenteeapplication. That's because anyone who requested an absentee ballot butdid 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 ofabsentee ballots also may arrive at boards of elections statewide afterElection Day. Provided they were postmarked by Monday's deadline, they,too, will be counted after Nov. 17.
The resulting pile ofuncounted ballots not only would keep a race as close as the Carter-Fordcampaign in play, but it also could even affect the outcome of acontest comparable to 2004, when President George W. Bush defeatedDemocrat John Kerry in Ohio by about 118,000 votes.
If thosemid-November vote tabulations demand a recount, it must under Ohio lawbe completed "not later than six days before the time fixed underfederal law for the meeting of ... presidential electors." Electors ineach state this year will meet Dec. 17, creating a Dec. 11 deadline forfinishing the recount -- one day before the other section of the lawsays it could begin.
"There are just too many variables to sayexactly when certain things would happen or when it would be completed,"said Husted spokesman Matt McClellan. "We can make adjustments to theschedule if necessary."
Several options could shorten the post-election timetable, McClellan explained.
AlthoughDec. 7 is the date by which Husted must certify the result, that couldoccur sooner. Ohio's 88 county boards of elections face a Nov. 27deadline for completing their official counts, so the secretary of stateconceivably could make his certification only a day or two later.
Inaddition, the five-day waiting period for starting a recount may bewaived by both candidates. If either Obama or Romney needs Ohio's 18electoral votes for victory, there would be tremendous national pressureto expedite the recount.
"In the interest of getting this done, Ipresume both sides would waive the waiting period," said HamiltonCounty Democratic Party chairman Tim Burke, who also chairs the countyelections board.
If that happens, a recount theoretically couldbegin as early as Nov. 28, leaving two weeks to complete it in time tocomply with the electors' meeting schedule.
Key dates that will govern how Ohio's presidential vote becomes official
Tuesday,Nov. 6 -- Election Day. Absentee ballots dropped off at county boardsof elections -- not precinct polling places -- by the close of the pollsat 7:30 p.m. will be counted. Provisional votes cast at the polls willbe set aside for 10 days until eligibility issues have been resolved.
Friday,Nov. 16 -- Absentee ballots postmarked by Nov. 5 must be received bycounty 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.
Friday,Dec. 7 -- Secretary of state's deadline for certification of officialresults, which could occur earlier. A recount normally begins five daysafter certification, but if candidates waive the waiting period, itcould 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.