Barry M. Horstman reports:
The U.S. Supreme Court today cleared the way for Ohioans to cast early in-person absentee ballots on the final three days before the Nov. 6 election.
In a major legal victory for President Barack Obama’s campaign, Justice Elena Kagan denied Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted’s request to overturn or put on hold lower federal court rulings that authorized early voting on the final Saturday through Monday before Election Day.
Shortly after the court ruled, Husted set uniform early voting hours for those days in all 88 counties: 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m.-5 p.m. Sunday and 8 a.m-2 p.m. Monday.
The U.S. Supreme Court today sealed a legal victory for President Barack Obama’s campaign in the pivotal state of Ohio, leaving intact a ruling that restored early voting rights for the weekend before the Nov. 6 election.
Ohio Republicans had sought to cancel early voting that weekend for everyone except members of the military. A U.S. appeals court in Cincinnati blocked the plan last week, saying it probably violated the constitutional rights of non-military voters. In a one-sentence order, the Supreme Court rejected a challenge to that ruling, filed by Ohio’s Republican secretary of state and attorney general.
Democrats and Republicans have jockeyed in Ohio for months over early voting, an option used heavily by blacks, women, the elderly and low-income people, according to the appeals court. A trial judge cited an estimate that 100,000 Ohioans would vote in the three days leading up to Election Day.
No Republican has ever won the White House without capturing Ohio, which controls 18 of the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the presidency.
In previous years, each Ohio county decided whether to offer voting on the weekend before the election. The state’s Republican leadership, through a combination of legislation and a legal interpretation by Secretary of State Jon Husted, sought to make a statewide change for this year and allow voting that weekend only by military members.
The Obama campaign and Democratic Party sued, claiming the plan violated the Constitution’s equal protection clause.
Husted and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said the changes were warranted to give county boards of election more time to prepare for Election Day and to accommodate the needs of military families. The appeals court said neither interest was sufficient to justify the change.
The public interest “favors permitting as many qualified voters to vote as possible,” Judge Eric Clay wrote for the three-judge panel.
Husted said last week that, in the event the Supreme Court rejected his application, he would set up uniform voting hours for each of Ohio’s 88 counties.
The early-voting clash is one of two Ohio election disputes with implications for the presidential race between Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. In a second Obama victory, the same Cincinnati-based appeals court last week barred the state from disqualifying provisional ballots that voters cast in the wrong precinct because of poll-worker error.