It's easy to imagine what the late Tim Russert's whiteboard might say tonight: Ohio, Ohio, Ohio.
The Buckeye State has supplanted its Southern cousin Florida as the marquee battleground of the 2012 presidential election — the state most likely to tip the race to either President Obama or Mitt Romney. Both candidates and their allies practically took up residence there in the past month, while their ads inundated the airwaves.
But Ohio also bears another, more ominous similarity to the 2000 Florida: If a close race demands a recount, conditions are ripe for a repeat of the delays, confusion, and chaos that racked the Sunshine State. And just like 12 years ago, the state's ultimate winner could very well determine who is the next president. Part of the reason is that swing states such as Ohio haven't adopted some of the reforms that Florida enacted after its infamous recount.
The potential problems that could arise in a close race in Ohio are myriad. But the most obvious flash point involves provisional ballots, those cast if a voter's eligibility is in question. Election officials don't count provisional or absentee ballots until 10 days after Election Day. In case of a narrow margin and with hundreds of thousands of such votes still to be counted, neither candidate could claim victory. (Ohio recorded 200,000 provisional ballots in 2008, a number expected to rise this time.) "Everyone is going to be saying, "˜It's just like Florida,' " says Trevor Potter, who was general counsel for John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign.