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Ohio: The campaign endgame

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Hurricane Sandy might have decimated the East Coast, but a whirlwind of a different sort is about to descend on this normally placid midwestern state.

Ohioans may be forgiven for thinking that they are the only game in town as Election Day nears. A dizzying parade of candidates and events is taking over the state.

Over the past several days, the candidates have been traveling around the country at lightening speed, from Iowa to New Hampshire, Wisconsin to Pennsylvania. But all roads seem to lead to Ohio.

Since Friday, Mitt Romney has held three campaign events in various Ohio cities. Barack Obama has managed to squeeze five Ohio stops into his busy Sandy-cleanup schedule, and the running mates — Joe Biden on the Democratic side and Paul Ryan for the Republicans — have also been active here. Even Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson was stumping in Ohio this weekend.

Ohio is a must-win for Romney. As pundits never tire of pointing out, no Republican has ever won the White House without it. If Obama gets Ohio's 18 electoral votes, his victory is all but assured, even if his opponent scoops up Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia, all still considered "toss up" states.

Romney is counting on "GOP enthusiasm" to sweep him to victory, according to an internal memo obtained by CNN.

The Obama campaign, by contrast, seems to be relying on good old-fashioned organization to turn the tide.

There is almost no way of predicting what will happen on Tuesday, and the prospects are keeping political junkies awake at night.

In fact, according to the New York Times' endlessly entertaining interactive site, "512 Paths to the White House," there are scenarios in which history could hinge on tiny New Hampshire's 4 Electoral College votes.

The polls are agonizingly close, although recent surveys give Obama a slight edge in Ohio. According to an NBC/Wall Street Journal/ Marist poll released Saturday, the president is up by six points, 51 to Romney's 45. Other results, including a CNN poll announced Sunday, have the two men in a virtual tie.

The campaign, which has been a nasty and divisive slog from the beginning, has become even more bitter in the final days.

Delivering his standard stump speech in Ohio on Saturday, Obama referred to his rival, provoking loud boos from the audience.

"Don't boo, vote," said Obama, as he has done dozens of times before. "Voting is the best revenge."

The Romney campaign has seized on this comment for yet another attack ad, contrasting his approach with the president's.

"Obama asked his supporters to vote for revenge," says Romney indignantly. "Instead, I ask the American people to vote for love of country."

It's a non-issue, based more on sentiment than any real facts, but that seems to be the way things are going in the run-up to Tuesday's vote.

But as all eyes turn to the Buckeye State, there are some troubling issues emerging. Even before the vote count gets under way, many are raising questions about its validity. Concerns about vote rigging are flooding the internet, and are making their way into the mainstream media.

As Victoria Collier put it in "How to Rig an Election," a recent article in Harper's Magazine:

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"We are now in the midst of yet another election season. And as November 6 approaches, only one thing is certain: American voters will have no ability to know with certainty who wins any given race, from dogcatcher to president."

The strong words were dismissed by election officials. But the buzz — over electronic voting machines, special software "patches" and ties between the Republican Party and voting hardware — is in the air, stubbornly refusing to yield to blanket denials.

Ohio is the center of much of the fuss: the Columbus-based Free Press has been stoking the controversy with regular reports about Hart Intercivic, a company owned by Bain and Company, which has close ties to Romney.

"A statement that Hart has nothing to do with the voting machines in Hamilton [Cincinnati] or Williams counties in the key swing state of Ohio is simply incorrect," writes the Free Press. "Not only does Hart Intercivic have contracts to maintain some of their voting machines, but in Hamilton and Williams counties the tabulation software which will be used to count the votes on Election Day is also made and maintained by Hart, according to public records."

State officials have also, apparently, allowed installation of untested software on the machines. One activist is so mad about it that he is going to court.

"Those worries about a rigged election were given new urgency today as The Ohio-based Free Press editor-in-chief Robert Fitrakis, also a Green Party candidate for Congress, announced plans to file a lawsuit later today seeking an immediate injunction against Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted … to halt the use of secretly installed, unauthorized ‘experimental' software in 39 counties' tabulators in an alleged violation of state election law," writes Art Levine in the Huffington Post.

"Silliness," said Husted, interviewed by CNN's Don Lemon Saturday evening. The software, he explained, simply made it easier for counties to report the results on election night, and would actually make the process more transparent, not less.

"It's not an issue," Husted insisted.

But if the results in Ohio do not match voter expectations, there could well be a reaction that clouds the results and makes the whole post-election process rather messy.

A group calling itself "No More Stolen Elections" has pledged to stage nationwide demonstrations if they find anything fishy about the vote count, especially in Ohio. Featuring such venerable titans of the 1960s and ‘70s as MIT's Noam Chomsky, Tom Hayden of the Students for a Democratic Society, and Daniel Ellsberg of the Pentagon Papers, the organization is uncompromising in its outlook.

"WE SUPPORT efforts to protect the right to vote leading up to Election Day," reads a statement on the group's website. "IF NECESSARY, WE PLEDGE to join nationwide pro-democracy protests starting on the next day, either in my community, in key states where fraud occurred, or in Washington, D.C., and if necessary, to demand a recount, investigation, and criminal prosecutions of those responsible."

So Tuesday could be only the beginning.

Pretty soon we will all be in the same state of mind as Abby Evans, a 4-year-old who got so upset at an NPR segment on the campaign that she burst into tears.

"I'm tired of Bronco Bamma and Mitt Romney," she sobbed, in a video that has since gone viral.

Her mother, Elizabeth Evans, tried to soother her.

"Don't worry, Abby, the election will be over soon," she said.

Let's hope she's right.

Thanks to our donors and sponsors for their support of local independent reporting. Join Linda Bingham, Disigners' Deals, and Michael Green and contribute today!

This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

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Romney campaigning in Lebanon, Ohio, on Oct. 13.

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