Obama Campaign Argues Ohio Voting Law Unconstitutional
President Barack Obama’s campaign organization asked a federal judge to issue an order equalizing the amount of time all Ohioans have to vote in advance of the national election in November.
Under Ohio law, U.S. armed forces members and residents living overseas are allowed to cast ballots until the day before the Nov. 6 election, while early voting for all other Ohioans ends four days before, a split the Obama for America campaign, state and national Democratic parties call unconstitutional.
The case was “never about taking away the right of military or anyone else to vote during those three days, it’s about restoring that right to other Ohioans,” campaign attorney Donald McTigue told U.S. District Judge Peter Economus today during oral arguments in Columbus federal court.
As the arguments began, a Pennsylvania state court judge in Harrisburg rejected an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit challenging that state’s voter identification law. The judge ruled the civil rights group failed to prove the measure would disenfranchise voters. The plaintiffs said they would appeal.
Ohio holds 18 of the 270 electoral college votes needed to win a presidential election and no Republican has won without a victory there. In 2008, Obama won the state with 51.5 percent of the ballots cast. The judge didn’t rule during the 90-minute hearing. Pennsylvania has 20 electoral votes.
Ohio previously had one early voting period that enabled all voters to vote until the day before Election Day, before legislation signed by Republican Governor John Kasich over the past two years created the division. Obama and Democrats sued Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and Secretary of State Jon Husted last month, seeking to enjoin the law.
“There is no fundamental right to in-person early voting,” Husted and DeWine, who are both Republicans, said in an Aug. 1 filing opposing the injunction request. Ohio has a rational basis for treating military and overseas voters differently from its other eligible residents, they said.
Ohio’s curb on early voting for non-military citizens is needed to allow local election boards to synchronize the early balloting records with those at 9,800 polling places to prevent people from voting twice, said Husted.
“There’s a balance we have to strike between access and accuracy,” he said.
Ohio attorney William Consovoy told the judge the “state believes that there needs to be time to prep for election day,” adding that “absentee voting is not a fundamental right.”
Obama and the Democrats disagreed, contending there’s no distinction between otherwise-eligible voters that justifies giving more time to one group than to another.
“Because Ohio has made those voting mechanisms available, it cannot then deny them to some of its citizens on an arbitrary basis,” the party and campaign said in a July 17 filing.
Fifteen fraternal military organizations on Aug. 6 won permission from the judge to intervene on the side of the state.
The case is Obama for America v. Husted, 12-cv-00636, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Ohio (Columbus).
To contact the reporters on this story: Denise Trowbridge in Columbus, Ohio federal court at firstname.lastname@example.org; Andrew Harris in Chicago federal court at email@example.com.