As the ballots are cast and counted in one of the closest U.S. elections ever, here are some things to watch for in the pivotal swing state of Ohio:
Early Voter Results
About a third of Ohio voters have cast ballots ahead of election day and the tally of those early votes will be announced shortly after polls close at 7:30 p.m. EST. It is expected that the results will show a lead for President Barack Obama, whose campaign has pushed for its supporters to vote early. Should the early results show a lead for Mitt Romney – or even show him a close second – it will be a long, and probably losing, night for Mr. Obama.
Perhaps caused by its frequent role as a bellwether state, Ohio is home to a large number of proud independent voters, unaffiliated with either main party. The Romney campaign believes it is doing very well among this 10 per cent or so of the electorate. If exit polls in Ohio show the independent vote breaking even or favouring Mr. Obama, it will be a clear indication the President will likely hold the state.
Mr. Obama won in 2008 by capturing the majority of women’s votes. He won 56 per cent to John McCain’s 43 per cent, and did particularly well among single women, white and black. He has been pushing a women’s agenda in Ohio this election. Republicans have insisted that the economy is as much a concern to women as it is to men, while promising to end support for groups such as Planned Parenthood and promoting an anti-abortion campaign. If exit polls show the Democratic lead among women as less than the 13 points Mr. Obama enjoyed in 2008, it will bode well for Mr. Romney’s chances.
Results in Cincinnati
Hamilton County in southwestern Ohio is usually a Republican stronghold. Mr. Obama shattered that tradition in 2008 by winning the area, which includes Cincinnati, by about eight percentage points. Mr. Romney, this time, has waged a fiercely competitive campaign with a formidable ground game making personal contact with voters. The Obama camp realizes it’s unlikely to repeat its victory, but it can’t afford to lose by more than one or two percentage points if it hopes to hold the state.
Turnout in Toledo and Cleveland
The Obama campaign has put all its chips on holding the Democratic base in the northern industrial cities, and put enormous effort into its get-out-the-vote campaign. If turnout is low in cities such as Toledo and Cleveland, the principal beneficiaries of Mr. Obama’s auto bailout program, it could spell defeat for the President.
Ohio’s 16 th Congressional District
One of the fiercest and most expensive Congressional races in the country is being waged in northeastern Ohio, where two incumbents are on the ballot. Jim Renacci, a first-term Republican and one of the wealthiest members of Congress, is facing Betty Sutton, a third-term Democratic representative. Following the 2010 census, the Republican-dominated state legislature redrew the district’s boundaries and gave it a somewhat Republican flavour, avoiding Democratic urban centres in favour of suburban and rural areas.
Analysts say the race reflects the values of Ohio and the tensions of the national campaign. A Democratic win here will likely signal a good night for Mr. Obama.
Ohio has a unique policy for dealing with so-called “provisional votes” – ones that are cast but not immediately counted. These are cast by people who don’t have proper identification, or who were supposed to have cast absentee or other special ballots. These ballots are gathered, unopened, and only counted if the difference between the two candidates’ Ohio vote totals is less than the number of provisional ballots. In that event the ballots are tallied, but only 10 days after the election.
So if the difference between Mr. Obama’s and Mr. Romney’s vote is less than 150,000, for example, and there are more than that many provisionals ballots, it will Nov. 17 before the winner of Ohio, and perhaps the nation, will be known.