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Friday, August 31, 2012

Federal Judge in Ohio Restores Early Voting


A federal judge in Ohio on Friday ordered the state to give all voters the right to cast their ballots in person on the final three days before Election Day.

The ruling was a victory for state Democrats and President Obama's campaign in a swing state and was the latest salvo in the contentious battle over the state's early voting laws before the Nov. 6 election.

The state Democratic Party and the Obama campaign had sued the state over the constitutionality of a law that ended early in-person voting on the Friday evening before the election to all but voters serving in the military or living overseas.

The judge, Peter C. Economus of Federal District Court in Columbus, issued a preliminary injuncti on against the law, saying that in making an exception for some, the law unconstitutionally valued some voters over others.

Judge Economus also cited statistical studies presented by Democrats showing that low-income and minority voters would be disproportionately affected by the elimination of the voting days.

In his ruling, the judge roundly rejected the state's arguments that restoring the final three days would make it difficult for county election boards to prepare for Election Day and would make it difficult for military voters to cast their ballots early.

The Ohio attorney general, Mike DeWine, above, announced that he would appeal the decision.

“With all due respect to the judge, we disagree with his ruling today,” Mr. DeWine said. “We have always allowed distinction for military voters, and to say this violates equal protection is wrong.”

Ohio opened early balloting to all voters - one of 32 states to do so - after the 2004 elec tion debacle that left thousands of state residents stranded in long lines unable to cast their ballots before the polls closed.

Democrats estimated in their lawsuit that 93,000 people voted early in the final three days of the 2008 election. At least one study Democrats presented in their lawsuit showed that early voters tended to favor Democrats.

The Republican-controlled legislature eliminated the final three days in a flurry of legislation in the last year. Then last month, the secretary of state, a Republican, eliminated all weekend voting during the five-week early voting period, which begins Oct. 2.

After Friday's decision, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio called on the state to restore all weekends during the early voting period.