Four days until the election, and both sides are preparing for overtime.
The Democrats and Republicans have their legal teams on standby, just in case a swing state's vote falls inside the margin of litigation. An NPR report this morning speculated that if Ohio is too close to call, the parties could wage a post-election battle here as fierce as Florida's in 2000.
The stakes are high, but you can protect your vote with a few simple steps. Here's how to lawyer-proof your ballot and make sure it gets counted. (The links are for Cuyahoga County, but most of the advice applies anywhere in Ohio.)
If you voted by mail: track your ballot online. Use the UPS-like Track Your Ballot page on the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections website to make sure your ballot made it in. If it says "Returned," it's in and accepted.
If it says "Challenged," you're one of the less than 1 percent of mail-in voters who left some info off your ballot identification envelope. You'll get a letter in the mail asking you to correct it by mail or in person at the Board of Elections office. You'll have until Nov. 16 to do it.
If you haven't sent in your mail-in ballot yet: Double-check that you followed all the directions. Be sure to include your name, signature, address, and ID number (driver's license, last four digits of SSN) on your ballot identification envelope. If not, your ballot will be challenged (see above).
Put your ballot in the identification envelope, seal it, and put the identification envelope in the larger mailing envelope. Then mail the ballot soon. It has to be postmarked by Monday -- or dropped off at the Board of Elections by Tuesday.
If you're voting in person: Know your voting location and precinct number. They’re on your voter-registration card and other mailings from the Board of Elections. Or you can look them up here if you're in Cuyahoga County or here if you're anywhere in the state.
The precinct number tells you which line to get in. (Ballots cast in the right polling location but the wrong precinct line -- "right church, wrong pew" votes -- are hotly contested in election litigation.)
Bring photo ID -- a driver’s license, state ID or military ID. Or use a utility bill, bank statement, paycheck or government check with your name and current address.
Avoid the provisional ballot envelope, if you can. If a poll worker pulls out a yellow provisional ballot envelope, ask a lot of questions to be sure you need to use it. Try to solve the problem first. If you forgot to bring your ID, go home to get it. If you’re not in the poll book, check your registration card or the wall maps to confirm you’re in the right precinct.
If you do vote provisionally, fill out the envelope carefully, and call the Board of Elections afterward to find out if your vote counted or if you need to follow up by visiting the office.
Mark your ballot carefully. Reread your ballot before you turn it in. Make sure you didn’t double-vote in any races, that you didn’t make stray marks, and that you filled in your choices completely. If you make a mistake, ask for a new ballot.
Update, 4 pm: The New York Times reports that the Democrats will have 600 lawyers in Greater Cleveland on Election Day, while the Republicans will have 70. "If it’s close, you will see both sides running to court," says Jeff Hastings, chair of the board of elections.
Stuart Garson and Rob Frost, the local Democratic and Republican chairs, are trading suspicions that the other side might be perpetrate some Election Day impropriety or deliberately spread misinformation or sow confusion. They both sound alarmist, but who knows? Another reason to follow the advice above -- and give yourself plenty of time to vote on Election Day.