TOLEDO, Ohio — A federal judge ruled Thursday that Ohio voters who showed up at the wrong polling place on election day could still cast ballots as long as they were in the county where they were registered.
U.S. District Judge James Carr blocked a directive from Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, a Republican, who recently announced that poll workers must send voters to their correct precinct.
Blackwell filed an appeal.
The judge said voters who showed up at the wrong polling place after moving without notifying the elections board, and those whose names could not be found on the registration rolls, should be able to cast provisional ballots there.
Denying any voter the right to a provisional vote will erode confidence in the election and lessen the incentive to vote, the judge said.
"Lessened participation at the polls diminishes the vitality of our democracy," Carr said.
The decision is a victory for the Ohio Democratic Party and a coalition of labor and voter rights groups, which said Blackwell's order discriminated against the poor and minorities.
"We expect the secretary of state to issue a new set of guidelines that will allow voters to participate in the election process," state party Chairman Dennis White said.
Foes of the directive also argued that a federal law passed in 2002 allows voters to cast provisional ballots at any polling place in their home county.
Blackwell called Carr's decision a misinterpretation of the federal act.
"The law specifically leaves the issuing and counting of those ballots to states in accordance with state law," which requires that voters cast ballots at the correct polling place, Blackwell said.
Provisional ballots are not counted until after the election. They are set aside and inspected by Democratic and Republican election board employees to establish their validity.
More than 100,000 provisional votes were cast in Ohio in the 2000 election.