COLUMBUS, Ohio — Both President Obama and Mitt Romney were heading to Ohio yet again on the eve of the election, with final polls showing the Democratic incumbent just a sliver ahead of his Republican rival in the most fiercely contested of the battleground states.
Both were bringing big-name entertainers as warm-up acts to maximize crowd size at their closing events in Columbus — Bruce Springsteen for the president and, just a couple of hours later, the Marshall Tucker Band for Romney.
At the same time, volunteers on both sides were fanning out to thousands of homes, from Lake Erie to the Ohio River, trying to spur higher turnout of supporters in a race so agonizingly close that legal teams were already bracing for a protracted battle over ballot counting.
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The University of Cincinnati’s Ohio Poll, released Monday, found 50% of likely voters in the state favoring Obama and 48.5% backing Romney. A Columbus Dispatch poll, released Sunday, was nearly the same: Obama, 50%, Romney, 48%. The results of both surveys fell within the margin of sampling error.
On television, meanwhile, Romney and Obama continued pounding each other in a closing bombardment of attack ads over the weekend, with no letup on Monday. In Columbus, Romney ran spots attacking Obama over taxes, spending, debt, jobs and partisan gridlock in Washington.
Obama’s ads bashed Romney’s business record and his positions on abortion, education, taxes, trade with China and more. Super PACs allied with both candidates amplified the crossfire.
The constant advertising has exasperated many Ohio television viewers. All told, the campaigns and their allies have spent $189 million on election ads in Ohio — more than in any other state, NBC News reported Monday.
Both candidates view Ohio’s 18 electoral votes as crucial to building an Electoral College victory.
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With national and state polls showing the contest nearly tied, campaign operatives in Ohio were looking ahead on Monday to potential tussles at local election boards in the weeks ahead as provisional ballots are counted.
The latest dispute is over a directive issued early Friday evening by Jon Husted, Ohio’s Republican secretary of state. It concerns paper provisional ballots that some voters must use when their eligibility can’t be verified on election day.
The directive prohibits local election boards from counting the ballots of voters who fail to list what form of ID they presented at the polls.
But state law requires the poll worker, not the voter, to list what form of ID was presented. And federal courts have ruled that Ohio must count the provisional ballots of voters when poll worker error caused their ballot information to be filled out incorrectly.
“He’s shifted the poll worker’s job to the voter,” said Subodh Chandra, a lawyer for the groups seeking a court order to overturn that part of Husted’s directive.
Voters who cast provisional ballots often support Democrats, so the party is backing the court case against Husted.
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In an interview, Husted said his directive complied with both state and federal law.
“Reasonable people will come to different conclusions, because the law contradicts itself in certain circumstances,” he said. Husted also said he was “working feverishly to find some common ground so that we can move past this issue.”
“Voters should be in charge of casting their ballot, not a poll worker,” Husted said.
In a close judicial election in Cincinnati two years ago, provisional ballots that Republicans had sought to block from being counted were ultimately tallied under federal court order. Once the provisional ballots were counted, the results changed, and the Democrat won.
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