CINCINNATI (AP) - A federal judge on Thursday ordered Ohio's top elections official to verify the identity of newly registered voters by matching them with other government documents.
U.S. District Judge George C. Smith in Columbus ruled that Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner must perform verification required by the Help America Vote Act. That includes matching new registrants' information against information in databases maintained by the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles or the Social Security Administration.
The order was the result of a lawsuit the Ohio Republican Party filed against Brunner, a Democrat.
"Plaintiffs assert, and the court agrees, that it is hard to imagine a public interest more compelling than safeguarding the legitimacy of the election of the president of the United States," Smith wrote in his ruling.
Brunner also was ordered to establish a process by which Ohio's 88 county election boards can access information generated by the checks.
Residents registering to vote must provide their name, address, date of birth and either their driver's license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number.
Brunner said Tuesday that roughly 666,000 new voters have registered in Ohio since the start of 2008.
She has said the state matches registration information against data in the Bureau of Motor Vehicles system and the Social Security database. But she also has said federal law doesn't say what should be done if a mismatch is discovered, and it is up to counties to check the system for flagged registrations and investigate if warranted.
Brunner said the Ohio attorney general's office is filing an immediate appeal on her behalf with the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
"My office will do everything within its power to ensure that the state's 88 county boards of elections can continue to allow early voting to proceed uninterrupted and to assist them with their preparation to ensure a smooth election for the voters of Ohio," Brunner said.
Republicans, who have been at odds frequently with Brunner, hailed the ruling.
"For some reason, Jennifer Brunner does not want these new registrations checked," said Ohio Republican Party Deputy Chairman Kevin DeWine. "Her refusal to comply with federal law raises serious concerns about her ability to objectively oversee this election."
Separately Thursday, the sheriff in Greene County in southwest Ohio requested registration cards and address change forms for all 302 people who registered to vote and cast ballots during the state's weeklong same-day voting window, which ended Monday.
Sheriff Gene Fischer, a Republican, told elections officials he had been flooded with telephone calls from people concerned about possible fraud.
Greene County is home to five colleges or universities - Wright State, Central State, Wilberforce and Cedarville universities and Antioch College. Most of its students lean Democratic.
County Prosecutor Stephen Haller, who is representing Fischer, said the records request was not politically motivated. Haller is a former law partner of Mike DeWine, a former U.S. senator and chairman of the Ohio campaign of Republican presidential nominee John McCain.
McCain's rival, Democrat Barack Obama, launched a major push to attract new voters during the window, which was the subject of an unsuccessful challenge by the Ohio Republican Party.