COLUMBUS — To make clear he was not defying a federal court, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted on Friday reversed a previous order to county boards of elections barring them from scheduling early voting the last three days before the Nov. 6 election.
Mr. Husted, a Republican, filed a request with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio for a stay of the judge's ruling last week ordering weekend voting hours and to apologize for the "misimpression" that he was defying the judge's order.
U.S. District Court Senior Judge Peter C. Economus, who was appointed by former President Bill Clinton, this week ordered Mr. Husted to appear in court next week to explain why he issued an order to all 88 county boards of elections that contradicted the judge's ruling clearing the way for weekend voting.
Judge Economus ruled Aug. 31 that the state must offer the same opportunity for early voting that it does for members of the military, who are allowed to vote early the weekend before the election.
The ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed by President Obama's re-election campaign.
"The only hindrance to [military] early voting is the secretary of state's failure to set uniform hours at elections boards during the last three days before Election Day," the judge wrote last week. "On balance, the right of Ohio voters to vote in person during the last three days prior to Election Day — a right previously conferred to all voters by the state — outweighs the state's interest in setting the 6 p.m. Friday deadline."
Democrats have noted that 93,000 Ohioans voted in 2008 on those three days, many of them in urban counties where Mr. Obama performed well. In court, they argued that it was unconstitutional to prohibit in-person voting during that period for most voters while others, specifically military personnel in Ohio and their families, could.
Attorney General Mike DeWine announced he will appeal the decision to the Cincinnati-based U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.
He said the state has long made distinctions for voting access for people who are in the military and everybody else. A number of military groups had intervened in the case, interpreting the lawsuit as an attack on military voting rights.
In his filing Friday, Mr. Husted said he was trying to avoid confusion that would result if county boards set early voting hours on the weekends before the election, and then the ruling was reversed on appeal. He requested a stay in the judge's ruling.
Mr. Husted said he has learned that Judge Economus views his Tuesday order as inconsistent with the judge's ruling.
"The secretary would never intentionally contravene an order issued by the federal district court or any other court — and this case is no exception," Mr. Husted wrote.
Mr. Husted said in his filing that, if the court does not issue a stay, "there is a real concern that county boards of elections will begin issuing early in-person absentee voting schedules for the three-day period before the secretary can issue a uniform schedule."
He said that would "only lead to significant administrative difficulties and further voter confusion."
Mr. Husted acknowledged that if the court does not issue the stay that he has requested, he will have to set in-person early voting hours for the three days before the Nov. 6 election.
Jon Stainbrook, a Republican member of the Lucas County Board of Elections, said the board is to hold its regular meeting on Tuesday.
However, the board is temporarily reduced to three members because former Democratic board member Keila Cosme resigned to take an administrative job with the Lucas County Child Enforcement Bureau.
"We're going to be talking about an early vote center location. Obviously now we're going to have to discuss hours at this next meeting," Mr. Stainbrook said. He said he would not seek a vote until the second Democratic seat on the board is filled.
Contact Tom Troy at email@example.com or 419-724-6058.