President Barack Obama’s campaign urged the U.S. Supreme Court to leave intact a ruling that restored early voting rights in the pivotal state of Ohio for the weekend before the Nov. 6 election.
Ohio Republicans are seeking to cancel early voting that weekend for everyone except members of the military. A federal appeals court blocked the plan, saying it probably violated the constitutional rights of non-military voters. Ohio’s Republican secretary of state and attorney general this week asked the high court to step in.
Democrats and Republicans have jockeyed in Ohio for months over early voting, an option used heavily by blacks, women and elderly and low-income people, according to the appeals court. No Republican has ever won the White House without capturing Ohio, which controls 18 of the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the presidency.
In previous years, each Ohio county decided whether to offer voting on the weekend before the election. The state’s Republican leadership, through a combination of legislation and a legal interpretation by Secretary of State Jon Husted, sought to make a statewide change for this year and allow voting that weekend only by military members.
The Obama campaign and Democratic Party say the plan violated the Constitution’s equal protection clause.
“Nowhere else in the country will an eligible voter be turned away from a single, open polling place because the polling place is open for some voters, but not for that particular voter,” the Obama campaign argued in papers filed at the Supreme Court.
Husted and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine say the changes are warranted to give county boards of election more time to prepare for Election Day and to accommodate the needs of military families. The appeals court said neither interest was sufficient to justify the change.
The public interest “favors permitting as many qualified voters to vote as possible,” Judge Eric Clay wrote for the three-judge panel.
Husted and DeWine said in court papers that the appeals court ruling “will cause wholly unwarranted interference with and disruption of the state’s administration of elections.” They said the state was “modestly” reducing early voting to give counties more time to prepare for Election Day.
Husted said this week that, in the event the Supreme Court rejected his application, he would set up uniform voting hours for each of Ohio’s 88 counties.
The early-voting clash is one of two Ohio election disputes with implications for the presidential race between Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. In a second Obama victory, the same Cincinnati-based appeals court two days ago barred the state from disqualifying provisional ballots that voters cast in the wrong precinct because of poll-worker error.
The Supreme Court application is Husted v. Obama for America, 12A338.