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November 5, 2012

8 questions about the presidential election

Q: Will there be a winner on election night?

A: There is a decent chance that by the time most Americans wake up on Wednesday morning, the seemingly endless campaign will finally have ended. But all the elements are in place for a Florida-style donnybrook of recounts, lawsuits and partisan intrigue. Pivotal Ohio is a tossup in many polls and at the center of most overtime scenarios. State law provides for an automatic recount if the margin separating the candidates is within one-quarter of a percent of the total votes cast. But before any recount begins, each of the 88 county election boards has until Nov. 27 to certify results and submit them to Secretary of State Jon Husted. Unless he decides to expedite the process, a recount would be unlikely to begin before early December. The state has a history of Election Day troubles, and this year could be a logistical nightmare. Husted decided to have absentee-ballot applications mailed to 7 million registered voters. So far, about 350,000 residents who requested the ballots have yet to mail them back. If they decide instead to vote in person on Tuesday, they must use provisional ballots — a precaution against double voting. Officials could be inundated with provisional ballots, which must be evaluated individually. At the center of it all is Husted, a Republican who has drawn criticism from Democrats for his attempts to limit early voting. Under Ohio law, the secretary of state is given unusually broad power over elections, and Husted could play a critical role in determining the next president.

Q: How much of an issue could voter fraud be?

A: Almost none — at least at the polls this week. While Republicans and grassroots "ballot integrity" groups contend that many illegal votes go undetected, there is scant evidence to support the claim. An analysis of more than 2,000 alleged cases of voter fraud over the past 12 years by News21, the Carnegie-Knight investigative reporting project, found the rate of actual wrongdoing "infinitesimal." Instances of voter impersonation, which prompted many states to debate or enact tough ID laws, were "virtually non-existent," News21 reported. Many purported cases of fraud turn out to be the result of mistakes by election officials. "The idea that impersonation fraud could be done on a large enough scale to affect the outcome of any major race, without detection by government officials, is ludicrous," Richard Hasen, a law professor at the University of California at Irvine, wrote in his new book, "The Voting Wars." Voter registration, however, has been a source of abuse and scandal. In 2008, a registration drive by the community organizing group ACORN produced an estimated 400,000 incorrect, duplicated or fraudulent submissions with false signatures. This year, the Republican National Committee said it cut ties with organizer Nathan Sproul after dozens of suspect registration forms were discovered by Florida officials.

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