Ohio starts to count up stray votes while lawyers keep an eye on the outcome

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The Independent US

Election officials in Ohio will today begin counting more than 150,000 outstanding provisional ballots from last week's presidential election amid growing allegations from activists about voting irregularities and potential fraud.

Election officials in Ohio will today begin counting more than 150,000 outstanding provisional ballots from last week's presidential election amid growing allegations from activists about voting irregularities and potential fraud.

The officials will examine the provisional ballots, which were provided for voters who turned up at polling booths but whose names were not on ballot lists. For a few brief hours on the morning of 3 November, Democrats believed the uncounted ballots could yet make up the 136,000 advantage President Bush had in Ohio. But former candidate John Kerry issued a statement this week saying the "outcome of the election" was not in doubt.

Nonetheless, Democrat lawyers are preparing to be on hand as the provisional votes are counted to ensure that the maximum number possible are included.

Dennis Anderson, an official with the Cuyahoga County Board of Election, said: "The final tally will not be completed until early December." In recent days, there have been a flurry of reports and stories claiming irregularities and problems with voting machines that could have falsely led to Mr Bush's victory. A group of online journalists, ConsortiumNews.Com, reported that, in 47 counties in Florida, Mr Bush had received more votes than there were registered Republicans.

Another report from Ohio said that a faulty machine had handed 4,000 votes to Mr Bush that had been cast for Mr Kerry.

Officials say the reports and rumours are usually easily explained. In case of the Florida "overvote" it appears that in many rural counties former Democrats had been voting Republican for several electiosn without changing their registration. Officials in Ohio also said the report of votes being handed to Mr Bush had been located to one faulty machine in Franklin County which had been spotted and dealt with.

Independent candidate Ralph Nader this week called for recounts in Ohio, Florida, New Hampshire and North Carolina. He said there was widespread evidence of irregularities. "The campaign does not view the election to be over merely because concession speeches, which have no legal effect, have been given. Rather they are over when every vote is counted and legally certified," he said.

The Kerry campaign has not asked for any recounts. Dan Hoffheimer, the campaign's counsel in Ohio, said the role of his team of lawyers was to identify any voting problems and prevent them from occurring in the future.

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