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Bush victory in Ohio closer than thought

President's margin cut in official tally

TOLEDO, Ohio -- President Bush's victory over John Kerry in Ohio was closer than the unofficial election night totals showed, but the change is not enough to trigger an automatic recount, according to county-by-county results provided to the Associated Press yesterday.

Bush's margin of victory in the state that put him over the top in his re-election bid will be about 119,000 votes -- smaller than the unofficial margin of 136,000, the county election board figures showed. That means Kerry drew closer by about 17,000 votes.

The margin shrank primarily because of the addition of provisional ballots that were not counted on Election Day and were not included in the unofficial tally. Overseas ballots also were added to the count in all 88 counties.

Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell will certify the results Monday.

The president's margin of victory was about 2 percent, not close enough to require an automatic recount. That happens only when the difference is 0.25 percent or less.

Bush beat Kerry nationally by 3 percentage points.

Out of 156,977 provisional ballots checked, 121,598 were pronounced valid and were accepted, meaning about one in five was thrown out, according to an AP tabulation. Provisional voters are cast when poll workers cannot immediately confirm if a voter was properly registered.

How many provisional ballots were cast for Bush and how many were cast for Kerry was not known, because most county election boards did not break down the votes that way. Most boards combined provisional ballots with overseas ballots and those cast on Election Day, then counted the entire batch to reach their final tallies.

The Kerry campaign and two third-party candidates are seeking a recount in Ohio. The Green and Libertarian parties said they have raised enough money to cover the cost. The Kerry campaign said it is not disputing the outcome of the presidential race but wants to make sure any recount is ''done accurately and completely."

A hearing on the recount request began in federal court in Columbus yesterday.

The narrowing of Bush's margin only increases the possibility that the election results could be changed, the Green Party said. ''Who knows what else will turn up when we examine the discarded ballots?" Green spokesman Blair Bobier asked.

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