The presidential election results in Ohio were close: According to still-unofficial figures from the Secretary of State, Barack Obama won the state with 2,690,841 votes to Mitt Romney’s 2,583,582 votes — a winning margin of 107,259 votes for the president. In percentage terms, that is 50.18 percent of the vote for Obama, and 48.18 percent for Romney.
But those numbers will change. Remember when, before the election, many observers discussed the possibility the results could be decided by the large number of provisional ballots that might be cast in Ohio? Well, those provisional ballots were cast, and they have not yet been counted. Neither have a significant number of absentee ballots. Together, the number of uncounted ballots is larger than Obama’s margin of victory.
According to the Secretary of State, there are 204,927 uncounted provisional ballots and 119,535 absentee ballots, for a total of 324,462 ballots. That is roughly three times the president’s 107,259-vote winning margin.
“The official canvass starts on the 17th of this month,” says Matt McClellan, a spokesman for the Ohio Secretary of State. “There will be no updated numbers until the counties have certified their results, which could be as late as the 27th.” That means no provisional or absentee ballots will be counted until at least the 17th, and no announcements until days after that. In fact, some absentee ballots are still being received; Ohio law says they will be counted if they arrive by November 16, as long as they were postmarked by November 5.
Not all provisional or absentee ballots will be counted. They are subject to challenge and often contain mistakes made by voters or poll workers. In 2008, Ohio issue 206,859 provisional ballots, and in the end 166,870 were counted. If that rate were to hold this year, that would mean the same number of provisional ballots, about 165,000, will be added to the vote totals.
As for absentee ballots, in 2008 the state issued a total of 1,744,753 of them, and 1,717,256 were counted — a fairly high percentage of valid ballots.
So this year, if the number of outstanding ballots is greater than Obama’s victory margin, it is at least theoretically possible that the Ohio results could change. A look at the location of those outstanding ballots, however, suggests the outcome will stay the same.
The largest number of outstanding ballots, about 60,000, is in Cuyahoga County, which Obama won by 69 percent to 30 percent. Another 49,000 ballots are out in Franklin County, which went for Obama 60 percent to 38 percent. In Hamilton County, which Obama won by 52 percent to 47 percent, there are about 25,000 outstanding ballots.
Romney-friendly counties have fewer outstanding votes. Butler County, for example, which Romney won 62 percent to 36 percent, has about 9,000 provisional and absentee ballots. Clermont County, which Romney won 67 percent to 31 percent, has about 4,000 outstanding ballots. Licking County, which Romney won 56 percent to 42 percent, has about 5,000 outstanding ballots. There do not appear to be enough outstanding ballots in pro-Romney places for Romney to make significant progress in the final count, and in the end Obama’s lead might actually increase.