Ohio GOP Encourages Voting During Special Window

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Ohio Republicans are encouraging voters to take advantage of a weeklong period that allows them to register and immediately cast a ballot in the state - the same period that's the subject of legal challenges backed by their own party.

Democratic Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner has told local elections boards to have policies in place to allow first-time voters to both register and vote on the same day, beginning with Tuesday's start of absentee voting.

The period has sparked several lawsuits, including one by two GOP-backed voters. The Republican-dominated Ohio Supreme Court was expected to rule on that suit as early as Monday.

The controversy began when the Republican-controlled legislature passed a bill in 2005 that enabled all registered voters to vote absentee without providing a reason, beginning Tuesday. The deadline for registering isn't until Oct. 6, so Brunner ruled there is a six-day window in which voters can register and vote at the same time.

The GOP maintains that a person must be registered for 30 days to get an absentee ballot. They said Brunner has read a partisan interpretation into law that would give election officials no opportunity to check the validity of voters' registrations.

The GOP is nonetheless telling voters on a party Web site to make use of the window.

"You have a special opportunity to help elect John McCain, Sarah Palin and Republicans across the ballot," a page on the Republican National Committee's Web site says. "Use this tool to locate your nearest early voting center, where you can register and vote in person."

Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett said Sunday night that party officials and candidates don't want to "unilaterally disarm" in case legal challenges to Brunner are unsuccessful. Organizers for Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama have been encouraging supporters to make use of early voting.

"It would be silly for us to just sit on the sidelines and do nothing, so we are proceeding as if the ruling that she has made is in effect beginning Tuesday," Bennett said. "Candidates were concerned, and I think rightfully so."

Ohio Democratic Party spokesman Alex Goepfert said Republicans are only trying to suppress the vote. "Their real goal isn't to make a credible legal argument, but to inject confusion and chaos into the Ohio election process," he said.