Turnout light in Ohio early voting window

/ Source: The Associated Press

A weeklong period in which Ohioans could register to vote and immediately cast a ballot ended Monday with turnout that didn't quite match the expectations of election officials — or the campaign predictions that preceded it.

As of Monday evening with polling sites still open, projections were that about 4,000 to 5,000 voters in the state's four largest counties would have taken advantage of the policy, which survived multiple court challenges.

Elections officials were surprised by the low turnout.

"With all the hoopla we were anticipating a whole lot more," said Steve Harsman, the elections director in Montgomery County, home to Dayton.

Overall, between 20,000 and 25,000 people were expected to have voted early in person in the four counties, beginning Sept. 30. The four counties include the state's largest urban areas — Cleveland, Cincinnati, Toledo and Dayton — and the focal points of campaign get-out-the-vote efforts.

About 1,300 people had taken advantage of the opportunity in Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland and is the state's most populous.

The early voting window was expected to benefit Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, as his campaign and supportive advocacy groups drove members of typically Democratic constituencies — the homeless, college students and poor people — to the polls.

Ohio, with 20 electoral votes, remains a toss-up state. It put President Bush over the top in 2004, giving him a second term.

This year's presidential campaigns interpreted the numbers to their advantage.

"We're pleased that thousands of Ohioans are turning out to cast their ballots early for Barack Obama," said campaign spokesman Isaac Baker.

McCain camp claims Obama weakness
Republican rival John McCain's campaign said the light numbers exposed a weakness in Obama's voter turnout efforts.

"Despite months of talking up 'Golden Week,' Obama was unable to connect with Ohio voters who question his readiness to lead," said McCain spokesman Paul Lindsay.

The Ohio GOP had sued in federal court to stop the voting window but was unsuccessful. Two Ohio voters with Republican backing sued in the Ohio Supreme Court, but also were defeated.

Republicans argued that the law required voters to have been registered for at least 30 days before getting an absentee ballot. They said the early voting window could lead to widespread voter fraud because officials wouldn't have an opportunity to verify registration information before ballots were cast.

The state Republican Party also had accused Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat, of using the law for partisan purposes. But the overlap between the beginning of absentee voting 35 days before Election Day, Nov. 4, and the end of registration 30 days before the election has been in Ohio law since 1981.