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Published: Tuesday, 9/30/2008

Courts OK Ohio s same-day voting, registration

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS Beginning today, Ohio voters may register to vote and immediately cast absentee ballots thanks to federal and state court decisions upholding the process.

In separate lawsuits filed from opposite sides of the feud, a U.S. District Court judge in Cleveland and the Ohio Supreme Court agreed with Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner that overlapping state laws created a one-week window during which same-day voting could occur.

Both campaigns plan to take advantage of the five business days of same-day voting through the registration deadline of Oct. 6 by getting would-be voters who show up at campaign events directly to county boards of election to register and immediately cast absentee ballots.

But Mr. Obama is expected to benefit more because of his past success in drawing large crowds of younger people on college campuses. Such voters traditionally have

been more likely not to have yet registered and, if registered, less likely to show up in person on Election Day.

We will continue an aggressive grass-roots outreach program encouraging Republicans, Democrats, and Independent supporters of the McCain-Palin ticket to use this opportunity to register and cast their vote before Election Day, said Jon Seaton, Mr. McCain s regional campaign manager.

Republicans had fought Ms. Brunner s directive to county boards of election to allow such voting, arguing that lawmakers passage of a law allowing voters to cast absentee ballots as early as 35 days before an election was never intended to make Ohio a same-day voting state.

They argued without success that would-be voters must be registered at least 30 days before casting a ballot while Ms. Brunner, a Democrat, maintained that they simply had to have been registered at least 30 days before the ballots are counted on Nov. 4.

I m pleased with the outcome, said Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat and Obama supporter. I think Secretary Brunner has been vindicated in her interpretation of what the law allows in terms of early voting.

Ms. Brunner characterized the decisions as a victory for the rule of law and for the voting rights of every Ohioan.

We will continue preparing for this presidential election and working with Ohio s boards of elections to make voting accessible, secure, and reliable for the state s voters, she said. My administration has and will continue to focus on increasing access for all eligible Ohioans.

U.S. District Court Judge James S. Gwin yesterday granted a temporary restraining order to force the Madison County Board of Elections to abide by Ms. Brunner s directive.

The board had agreed with the Republicans interpretation of the law.

A more troubling aspect of this case, and the reasons why this court is considering a TRO is because the interpretation of the Madison County Board of Elections not only violates Ohio law, but conflicts with federal law, and additionally has potential constitutional problems with the right to vote, Judge Gwin wrote.

In a separate 4-3 decision, the Ohio Supreme Court rejected a GOP request for an order to stop same-day voting.

Chief Justice Thomas Moyer, Justices Paul Pfeifer and Judith Lanzinger, and Dayton-based appellate Judge William H. Wolff, Jr., made up the majority. The minority consisted of Justices Terrence O Donnell and Robert Cupp as well as Akron-based appellate Judge Lynn C. Slaby.

Judges Wolff and Slaby substituted for Justices Evelyn Lundberg Stratton and Maureen O Connor, both of whom are on the ballot this year.

This is a win for Jennifer Brunner s partisan efforts to aid the Democrat turnout strategy,

Ohio Republican Party Bob Bennett said. Fortunately, the federal court overturned her attempts to shut out observers and conduct the absentee voting process without public scrutiny.

We will continue to fight the secretary of state s partisan maneuvering in this election, and we will win in spite of it, he said.

A federal court in Columbus yesterday struck down a Brunner directive that stated election observers could not be present during the five days of same-day voting.

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



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