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Supreme Court weighs in

Politics | The high court joined the voter-fraud debate in Ohio, halting a lower court's order for increased voter verification

Voter registration strife and fraud allegations are causing a political meltdown in the battleground state of Ohio, signaling potential troubled waters ahead for other states with thousands of new registered voters.

But the U.S. Supreme Court Friday unanimously overturned the Sixth Circuit Court's order to Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat, to share discrepancies in the state's voter-verification database. The ruling follows intense partisan debate over potential votes in a state that could determine the outcome of the upcoming presidential election.

The ruling sets a precendent for other states in similar voter-registration quandries, keeping the authority for election oversight in the hands of the state, not the courts.

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Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens oversees applications for emergency stays in Ohio, part of the Sixth Circuit, but he turned over this decision for the full court's consideration.

The justices, in their response, said they express no opinion on whether Brunner, who oversees the state's elections, is correctly implementing voter verification, simply that the circuit court had no jurisdiction to issue the order they did.

The Ohio Republican Party argued before the circuit court that Brunner had hampered the voter-verification process, which matches voters with driver's licenses and Social Security numbers in a database, by not providing more information on discrepancies. The circuit court sided with the Republicans, requiring Brunner to rework the verification system and provide mismatched registrations publicly, while early voting is already happening.

Brunner's appeal to the high court said the circuit court asked too much.

"As things now stand," she wrote, "the secretary must reprogram the statewide voter-registration database by Friday-after Ohioans have begun voting, and as she and the 88 county boards of elections are undertaking other efforts to ensure that the general election in Ohio will be a smooth one."

Ohio Democrats in official state positions have called the voter-registration disputes an attempt by Republicans to disenfranchise voters and stir chaos on Election Day.

Late Wednesday, Brunner appealed to the Supreme Court to halt the circuit court order. She pled with the high court to "restore order to Ohio's election," after a decision by a state court Tuesday "destabilized" the election.

Brunner believed the ruling would spark a "flood of lawsuits across the nation."

Brunner acknowledged on Wednesday that by following the ruling, 200,000 of the 666,000 voters who have registered since Jan. 1 would need to have their eligibility verified, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

Here's why 200,000 voters are significant: In 2004 President Bush won the key state of Ohio over John Kerry by just 118,601 votes, which led to his Electoral College victory. Some Democrats at the time said Republicans had disenfranchised thousands of mostly Democratic voters, and thus stealing the election from Kerry.

Barack Obama leads John McCain in various Ohio polls by about two percentage points, give or take the margins of error, meaning that the state is a toss-up. With 20 electoral votes in the balance, both parties will fight this to the bitter conclusion.

Adding to the heat in the debate is the Ohio's controversial decision to allow people to register and vote absentee at the same time.

Meanwhile, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), a national organization that promotes voter registration, is under investigation for voter-registration fraud in Ohio, as well as in North Carolina, Nevada, Minnesota, Texas, Missouri, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Florida.

Now the FBI is beginning its own investigation into whether the organization is promoting voter fraud around the country.

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emzleb.

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