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Published: Monday, 10/25/2004

Edwards urges big Ohio turnout

BY JAMES DREW
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

LIMA, Ohio - John Edwards said a massive Democratic turnout in Ohio will blunt a federal appeals court ruling that limits where some votes can be cast Nov. 2.

"We'll be responsible for making sure that their votes are cast in the right place and that they're counted, and we know this is going to work," Mr. Edwards told three Ohio reporters yesterday on his campaign bus, which made stops in Cincinnati, Dayton, and Lima.

As Mr. Edwards speaks this morning at the SeaGate Convention Centre, the campaign announced that John Kerry is scheduled to stump Thursday morning in Toledo, with a rally at the University of Toledo's Savage Hall.

Mr. Edwards, the Democratic candidate for vice president, campaigned up I-75 a day after a federal appeals court ruled that provisional ballots should not be counted if Ohio voters cast them outside their precincts.

The decision affirmed a directive from Republican Secretary of State Ken Blackwell and overruled U.S. District Judge James Carr of Toledo.

An appointee of President Bill Clinton, Judge Carr ruled Oct. 14 that provisional ballots, which are given to voters whose names do not appear on poll lists, are valid as long as they are cast in the correct county.

Mr. Blackwell said Judge Carr's interpretation opened the door to voter fraud. Democrats accused Mr. Blackwell of trying to suppress votes by the poor and minorities who move often.

"Our efforts are toward making sure people get to vote legitimately," said Mr. Edwards, a U.S. senator from North Carolina. Referring to Republicans, he added: "They certainly are engaged in some efforts in the opposite direction. "

Jason Mauk, press secretary for the Ohio Republican Party, said the federal appeals court ruling - combined with GOP challenges to newly registered voters whose mail was returned as undeliverable - will prevent fraud at the polls.

"John Edwards had a chance to speak out against election fraud in Ohio and instead he used the occasion to engage in race-baiting and phony conspiracy theories of voter suppression," Mr. Mauk said.

Democrats and Republicans on Friday appointed thousands of challengers and witnesses at the polls. Challengers can question whether voters are eligible.

Mr. Mauk said the GOP offered to conduct a joint witness effort with the Democrats, but was rebuffed and he said that "raises suspicions."

Terry Cook, who attended Mr. Edwards' rally in Dayton, said he's not concerned about anyone challenging his right to vote.

"Harassment isn't going to be a great concern for blacks in America. It just didn't start with this election," said Mr. Cook, a 50-year-old sales representative who lives in Dayton.

At a rally attended by about 2,500 in downtown Lima, Mr. Edwards referred to a taped interview that aired yesterday in which President Bush said it was "up in the air" whether the nation can ever be fully safe from another terror attack.

"The reason George Bush thinks those things is because he hasn't done everything that needs to be done to keep this country safe," Mr. Edwards said.

Mr. Edwards is scheduled to speak this morning in Toledo at the SeaGate Convention Centre, about 12 hours before filmmaker Michael Moore, who made the anti-Bush documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, is set to appear in the same building. Mr. Moore is using his "Slacker Uprising" tour to drive up turnout for Mr. Kerry.

Contact James Drew at: jdrew@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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