(The Root) — Tuesday, Nov. 6, 9:30 EST: James Davis missed the line at his polling place in University Heights, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, simply because he arrived around 7:45 a.m., after the morning rush, which peaked around 7 a.m. The only thing hindering his entrance into the University Heights library was a stream of early birds who were on their way to start the day.
Davis, a Democrat, said he made it to the polls because Ohio voters carry so much in their hands. "I'm not even a morning person, but I'm up at 7 or 8 in the morning, make sure I get my vote in, make sure my voice is heard," he said.
The state's 18 electoral votes are crucial for both President Obama and his challenger, Republican Mitt Romney. No Republican has been elected without carrying the state. The last Democrat elected without Ohio's blessing was John F. Kennedy, in 1960. Most polls show Obama pulling ahead in Ohio, but Romney didn't cede any ground. He made Cleveland a stop on Election Day.
If the election is extremely close, though, the final process might not run as smoothly as Davis' experience seems to suggest. The stumbling block would be provisional ballots, which have to be reviewed and tallied by Nov. 17. Provisional ballots are cast if the voter's eligibility is questioned because of registration problems or a mismatched address.
But Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted issued a new ruling that, opponents claim, could increase the number of rejected ballots. The new rule says that provisional ballots must be discarded if a voter doesn't fill out a special identification form or misstates the identification used. In the past, the poll worker completed the form. Husted says that voters are more likely to correctly list the type of identification they've used.
A federal judge will hear arguments challenging the ruling on Wednesday in Columbus. Subodh Chandra, one of the lawyers who will be doing so, expects a quick victory.
"I anticipate the judge to rule fairly quickly because the time to count provisional ballots starts 10 days post election," he wrote in an email. "We are optimistic about our prospects because Husted's violation of Ohio law and the right to vote is blatant and contradicts the position he stated to the Court on October 24 about who is responsible for recording voter-ID information, which is poll workers."
Afi-Odelia E. Scruggs is a Cleveland-based reporter and a contributor to The Root.