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Ohio elections website hacked as vote scuffle gets ugly

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USA '08 Service has been restored to the website that handles Ohio's voter registration and elections information after hackers breached its defenses. The intrusion is just one of several assaults confronting the Secretary of State's office as tensions mount over next month's presidential election.

IT workers took the site down on Monday to "detect and prosecute any illegal breach of our voting infrastructure to maintain voter confidence," Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner said in a statement. On Tuesday, the site returned, although parts of it remained in "static" mode, meaning a campaign finance search database and other features were unavailable.

Brunner's office has not disclosed details of the breach, except to say that voters' personal information was not accessed. Ohio's Highway Patrol is helping in the investigation of the incident.

With 20 of the 270 electoral votes needed to clinch the election between Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama, Ohio is a key battleground state. Polls indicate the contest is a tossup. In 2004, Ohio voters secured Republican George W. Bush's re-election victory by just 119,000 votes, one of the tighter races in that state's history.

In addition to the website attack, employees of the secretary of state's office have reported a barrage of phone calls and email containing "menacing messages and even threats of harm or death." A package sent to Brunner's office included an unidentified white powder and a message that read: "Death to Obama supporters."

Much of the controversy between Brunner's office and the Ohio Republican Party concerns new rules making it easier for residents of the state to vote early. Republicans argue that elections officials are required to match voter-registration information with driver's license databases and other government records.

Last week, the US Supreme Court blocked a lower court ruling that would have required Brunner - a democrat - to scrutinize the applications of thousands of newly registered Ohio voters before adding them to the voting rolls.

In Cincinnati, Hamilton County prosecutor Joseph Deters - who is also chairman of the southwest Ohio regional campaign for McCain - launched a grand-jury investigation following complaints about early voters. He turned the probe over to a court-appointed special prosecutor following complaints from democrats. ®

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