U.S. Supreme Court refuses to block lower court ruling on early voting in Ohio


COLUMBUS — The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday handed President Obama another victory over early voting in the critical battleground state of Ohio.

In a one-sentence order, the high court refused to block a lower federal court ruling requiring the state to keep its doors open during the last three days before the Nov. 6 election for in-person early voting.

As expected, Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, promptly issued a directive setting uniform hours for all 88 counties for those three days as he had for the rest of the 35-day early voting period.

Voters may cast ballots from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 3; 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 4; and 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 5.

Voters have been casting ballots in mail or in person since Oct. 2, but that final Saturday and Sunday represent the only weekend in which ballots may be cast in person at county boards of elections or at designated early vote centers.

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern called on Mr. Husted to also set hours for the two other remaining weekends before the election.

The lawsuit was brought by Mr. Obama’s re-election campaign, the Democratic National Committee, and other Democrats who argued that it was unconstitutional to allow military personnel and their families, but not others, to vote during those three days.

Federal courts held that the state failed to demonstrate that allowing full early voting, as it did four years ago, would create a hardship for boards of elections.

“This action from the highest court in the land marks the end of the road in our fight to ensure open voting this year for all Ohioans, including military, veterans, and overseas voters,” said Bob Bauer, the campaign’s general counsel. “We now turn our full attention to educating Ohio voters on when and how they can vote along with presenting the clear choice they face when selecting their next president.”

Chris Maloney, spokesman for Republican nominee Mitt Romney, said the GOP campaign is “battle-tested” and ready to match the Obama machine in Ohio through Election Day.

“Democrats are running out of excuses as to why their campaign is slipping away from President Obama in Ohio,” he said. “Momentum and enthusiasm have continued to favor Governor Romney during early voting.”

A federal judge had indicated he anticipated Mr. Husted would issue a new directive setting uniform hours rather than let all 88 counties set their own.

Some 98,000 Ohioans cast ballots on the three days set up for early voting in 2008, many of them in urban counties where Mr. Obama performed well.

“Despite the court’s decision today to deny our request for a stay, I firmly believe Ohio and its elected legislature should set the rules with respect to elections in Ohio, and not the federal court system,” Mr. Husted said. “However, the time has come to set aside the issue for this election.”

State Sen. Edna Brown (D., Toledo) said the high court has sided with working Ohioans by giving them more flexibility in exercising their right to vote.

“I hope this decision sends a signal to policymakers that access to the polls should never be arbitrarily limited for partisan gain," she said.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.