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Bush Camp Declares Victory Despite Ohio Ballot Dispute

Sen. John Kerry’s campaign claiming it would not concede defeat without the counting of provisional ballots in Ohio.

“We are convinced President Bush has won re-election with a lead of 286 electoral votes and he also has a margin of more than 3-and-a-half million popular votes,” White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card told the president’s sleepy supporters gathered at the Reagan Building in Washington just before 6 a.m. EST on Wednesday.

“President Bush’s margin of victory makes this the first election since 1988 in which the winner received the majority of the popular vote,” Card said.

Card further said the president had won more votes than any other candidate in the nation’s history and had “won the state of Ohio” and that Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell had told the campaign that the president’s margin of victory is “statistically insurmountable” even if all provisional ballots are counted.

Card said the president wanted to give Senator Kerry extra time to “reflect” on the results of the election before making a statement later Wednesday.

However, the Kerry campaign indicated it would demand the count of provisional ballots in Ohio, where President Bush appeared to hold a narrow lead of around 130,000 as of early Wednesday morning. That total includes some absentee ballots but not all those cast by military personnel and other Americans stationed overseas.

“We have waited for four years for this victory, we can wait one more night,” Senator Kerry’s running mate, Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., told a crowd of campaign supporters in Boston at around 2:30 a.m. EST Wednesday. “John Kerry and I made a promise to the American people that this election every vote would count and every vote would be counted. Tonight we are keeping our word and we will fight for every vote.”

Earlier, Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill issued a statement alleging some 250,000 Ohio ballots were yet to be counted and could affect the outcome of the election in Senator Kerry’s favor.

Blackwell said in statements to reporters Wednesday morning that as many as 175,000 provisional ballots may have been cast and that the final number might not be known for days and then counting of provisional ballots would probably not start for 10 days, according to state law.

“What I’ve told everybody to is to take a deep breath and relax,” the secretary of state said.

Blackwell, a Republican, said that the overall voting process in Ohio went smoothly on Tuesday with only one or two minor “hiccups.”

Provisional ballots are a safety measure mandated by federal law that is designed to ensure voters will not be disenfranchised because of administrative mistakes. Under the law, if voters show up to polling places without proper identification or if their names do not appear on the election roles, provisional ballots may be cast. If they are later found to be legitimate voters, their votes will be counted if the total number of provisional ballots could conceivably alter the outcome of an election.

If President Bush’s lead in Ohio remains less than 250,000 votes, political observers said the Kerry campaign would likely demand a count of that state’s provisional ballots.

A problem with vote counting machines in two Iowa counties will also delay that state’s final results, election officials announced early Wednesday. Although a relatively small number of votes are involved, officials said the machines need repairs in order to count them.

The election drew a record 115 million to 120 million voters to the polls, an estimated 55 percent to 60 percent of the population — a proportion not seen in American elections since the 1960s. Turnout percentages in states like New Mexico and Pennsylvania was even higher, reaching 70 percent to 80 percent in some areas.

Election officials and both major parties encouraged absentee and “early” voting, which meant that a record number of ballots were cast before Election Day, representing as much as 40 percent of the vote in some areas.

Widespread voting system problems that plagued the 2000 election, especially in Florida, were largely avoided, according to reports from around the country.

The St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times said that Florida election officials had breathed a collective sigh of relief as initial problems with long and slow moving lines gave way to a rather smooth process throughout the state.

As polls closed across the country and vote tallying began, the president jumped to an early lead in a number of key swing states. A projected victory in Florida gave Mr. Bush a substantial lead in the Electoral College, and caused the Kerry campaign to pin their hopes to Ohio. But the president maintained a slim but consistent lead as Buckeye State returns were tallied. In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, however, the Kerry campaign indicated it might demand the counting of provisional ballots in Ohio.

Overall the president did well in the South, parts of the Midwest, and the Mountain states. Senator Kerry showed strength in the Northeast, some mid-Atlantic states and the West Coast.

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