Ohio Swing State Voters Begin Voting

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CLEVELAND - Voters in this crucial swing state began casting absentee ballots Tuesday, a day after state and federal courts upheld a disputed early voting law.

Five people were waiting at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections when doors opened at 8:30 a.m. Two in line said they were voting for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, including John Fuller, 73, a retired hospital orderly from Cleveland.

Fuller said voting early would allow him to work on Election Day helping others get out and vote.

Election officials around Ohio were preparing for a rush of early voting Tuesday, the first day absentee ballots are accepted in advance of the Nov. 4 presidential election.

Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat, is also allowing new voters to register and cast an absentee ballot on the same day during a weeklong period that ends Oct. 6.

For weeks, the Ohio Republican Party accused Brunner of interpreting the early voting law to benefit her own party by allowing same-day registering and voting. Republicans argued that Ohio law requires voters to have been registered for 30 days before they cast an absentee ballot.

But the Republican-dominated Ohio Supreme Court decided Monday that Brunner was following the law. The decision was backed by a federal judge in Cleveland. Another federal judge in Columbus declined to rule, deferring to the state Supreme Court's decision.

In Cuyahoga County, the state's most populous county, election workers underwent two days of training last week to properly process voters who are registering and voting on the same day.

Fuller and others in line Tuesday morning were previously registered.

Julia Kramer, 19, a Case Western Reserve University freshman from New York City and an Obama volunteer, was second in line. She said she's been working on campus to register out-of-state students to change their registrations to Ohio because of its critical role in the election.

Nevertheless, "A lot of people are really attached to their hometowns," Kramer said. "It's hard to explain to people that your vote (in New York) won't count as much."

In Columbus, voters wanting to cast ballots as soon as possible on Tuesday morning had set up tents Monday night to wait in line outside the Franklin County Board of Elections.

The outcome of the court battles is likely to benefit Democrats in a state that narrowly awarded President Bush re-election in 2004.

Obama's campaign has organized car pools beginning Tuesday from college campuses to early voting sites. The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless is ferrying voters from homeless shelters to polling sites in the Cleveland area. Other organizations that seek to increase poor and minority participation in elections are transporting voters from low-income neighborhoods.

The targeted voters have all traditionally had a harder time getting registered, and then getting to polling places on Election Day. Thanks to Monday's court decisions, these Democratic-leaning voters can do it all at once.

It's a reality that inspired the Ohio GOP to lash out at Brunner once again. "This is a win for Jennifer Brunner's partisan efforts to aide the Democrat turnout strategy," said Ohio GOP Chairman Bob Bennett in a statement.

Still, Republicans weren't ceding the early voting crowd just because they were engaged in a court challenge.

"You have a special opportunity to help elect John McCain, Sarah Palin and Republicans across the ballot," a page on the Republican National Committee's Web site said.

McCain's presidential campaign has not provided as many details as the Obama campaign on how it intends to take advantage of the window, but still plans to push it.

The window occurs because state law requires absentee voting to begin 35 days before Election Day, on Sept. 30, while the end of registration for this election is Oct. 6. The window was used by voters sparingly in previous elections, but never got any attention until the Republican-controlled Legislature passed a law in 2005 that enabled all Ohio voters to vote absentee.