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CAMPAIGN '08: RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE

Bush asks for Justice probe in Ohio vote

Discrepancies in state registration data are at the center of a dispute between Republicans and Democrats.

October 25, 2008|Mary Pat Flaherty | Flaherty writes for the Washington Post.

WASHINGTON — The White House has asked the Department of Justice to look into whether 200,000 new Ohio voters must reconfirm their registration information before Nov. 4, taking up an issue that Republicans and Democrats in the battleground state have been fighting over in court for weeks.

The voter names are in dispute because their registration information conflicts with other official data.

The action comes a week after the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed a case brought by the Ohio Republican Party over the same issue. Republicans argue that the mismatches could signal fraudulent registrations; Democrats counter that eligible voters could be disqualified over minor discrepancies such as transposed numbers in an address.

President Bush on Friday asked Atty. Gen. Michael B. Mukasey to review concerns over the voters raised by House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).

Boehner wrote to Bush on Friday, saying that if the voters remain on the rolls without added checks, "there is a significant risk, if not a certainty, that unlawful votes will be cast and counted."

Boehner has asked Mukasey to order Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat, to make it easier for county election officials to access the state list of mismatched voters. Brunner has argued that such a measure would require reprogramming computers and would create chaos before the election.

White House Press Secretary Dana Perino characterized Bush's referral of the matter to Justice as a routine step that would be taken for any such request from a congressional leader.

The voters' registrations have been at the heart of a dispute between the Ohio Republican Party and Brunner.

Information for the new voters does not match state driver's license or Social Security records. Federal law demands that states have a computerized database to check the records but leaves it to states to determine what constitutes a match and what to do with mismatches. Voters who have not resolved discrepancies by Nov. 4 could be forced to cast provisional ballots, which are counted only if their registration information can be cleared up.

Also Friday, six former Justice Department lawyers urged Mukasey to ensure that voter registration investigations don't disenfranchise eligible minorities, the Associated Press reported.

The six attorneys, who formerly worked in the department's Civil Rights Division, wrote the attorney general that Justice generally discourages voter-related investigations until after elections to ensure that inquiries don't interfere with legitimate voters.

The Justice Department had not received the letter as of Friday night.

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