The Obama campaign's lawsuit aimed at permitting early voting in Ohio on the final three days before the Nov. 6 general election is an obvious attempt to help the President's re-election chances. It's also the right thing to do.
Early voting was expanded and absentee voting was made easier in many states because of long lines, equipment failures, and other problems during the 2004 presidential election. In Ohio, people can vote early without having to give a reason.
Some local boards of elections, including Lucas County's, mailed absentee-ballot applications to every registered voter. County election boards also could extend early-voting hours and keep voting sites open on weekends, including the Saturday, Sunday, and Monday before the election.
Women, old people, and lower-income voters were most likely to take advantage of these changes. These groups also tend to favor Democratic candidates.
That didn't sit well with Republicans in many states. They have spent the past two years promoting, and in some cases passing, laws that supposedly target (nonexistent) voter fraud but have the practical effect of making it harder for minorities, students, and elderly people to vote.
In Ohio, a law passed last year by the GOP-controlled General Assembly and signed by Republican Gov. John Kasich cut the number of early voting days, eliminated in-person early voting on Saturday afternoons and Sundays, and ended early voting three days before Election Day. The law also prohibited county boards of election from mass-mailing absentee ballot request forms to voters, and said poll workers did not have to direct voters who are in the wrong precinct to the right one.
Republicans later repealed that law, rather than give Democrats an issue to energize voters in November. But a separate state law includes a version of the early voting ban on the weekend before Election Day, so the noxious restriction remains in effect.
The Obama re-election campaign claims the ban is unconstitutional because it doesn't include military personnel and their families. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted counters that the military exception is mandated by federal law. Absent a compelling reason to limit ballot access, courts should rule in favor of more-expansive voting rights.
By every objective measure, early voting and expanded absentee voting have been hugely successful. Nearly 30 percent of Ohio ballots in the 2008 presidential election were cast early. Some 93,000 Ohioans voted during the last weekend before Election Day.
Long lines were reduced. Fewer people were affected by voting-machine failures. And incidents of voter fraud remained extremely rare.
Instead of trying to gain partisan advantage by making it harder for some groups to vote, Ohio's Republican lawmakers should have wooed these voters by championing expanded voting opportunities. Now it is up to the courts to cast their vote for broader ballot access.