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THE RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE

Court Stays Ruling on Michigan Votes

Panel puts on hold a judge's order to allow provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct.

October 25, 2004|From Associated Press

DETROIT — A judge's order requiring some provisional ballots in Michigan to be counted even if they are cast in the wrong precinct was put on hold Sunday, the second time in as many days that a federal appeals court dealt a setback to Democrats who wanted to ease voting restrictions.

A 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel in Cincinnati issued a stay of a lower court ruling that had reversed Michigan's policy for counting provisional ballots, saying it would hear an appeal of the issue quickly. On Saturday, the same three-judge panel had rejected a similar ruling out of Ohio.

Provisional ballots -- required in all states for the first time this year -- are used when voters say they are properly registered but their names are not on the registration rolls. The ballots are later counted if elections officials determine the voter is validly registered.

Michigan officials had ordered that only provisional ballots cast in the correct precinct should be counted, but a federal judge in Michigan had issued an injunction Tuesday saying ballots should be counted for federal races, including presidential, if the votes were cast in the wrong precinct but the right city, township or village.

The panel that stayed that ruling promised to hear an expedited appeal of the case, but it was unclear whether a decision would be reached before election day on Nov. 2.

"It's by no means over, but the likelihood that the stay will be in effect on election day is greater than the chance it won't be," said Michael Pitt, a lawyer who sued the Michigan secretary of state's office over its provisional ballots policy on behalf Michigan Democrats. Pitt said he expected written arguments to be due this afternoon.

Kelly Chesney, a spokeswoman for the Secretary of State's Office, said Sunday's appeals court decision "in essence allows us to go forward with policies and procedures that we had in place before.... I think it's good news for the local clerks."

Michigan elections officials have said voters who showed up in the wrong polling places would be directed to the correct one.

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