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Federal judge orders Ohio to keep its early balloting in place

August 31, 2012|By David G. Savage
  • A woman fills out a provisional ballot at a polling location in Columbus, Ohio.
A woman fills out a provisional ballot at a polling location in Columbus,… (Chris Hondros / Getty Images )

WASHINGTON-- A federal judge has ordered the battleground state of Ohio to open its polling places on the weekend and Monday prior to the Nov. 6 election, restoring the voting rules that were in effect in 2008,  when more than 93,000 early ballots were cast.

The decision is a significant victory for the Obama campaign, which hopes for another large turnout in a state that is seen as crucial to both Republicans and Democrats.

Obama’s lawyers had sued Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted after he eliminated early voting on the weekends, including the three days before Election Day.  A former Republican legislator and Ohio House speaker, Husted said he wanted voting rules that were “uniform” across all 88 counties.

But Husted had also said polling places will be open on the weekends for military voters and their families, subject to a “future directive” from the state.

Obama’s lawyers argued that all voters deserved equal treatment and that the polling places should be open on the crucial weekend, particularly since the turnout was heavy on the weekend during the last presidential race.

Judge Peter Economus agreed on Friday, and he cited as a legal precedent the Supreme Court’s Bush vs. Gore opinion. “Having once granted the right to vote on equal terms, the state may not, by later arbitrary and disparate treatment, value one person’s vote over that of another,” the high court said then.

The justices were speaking of the rules for counting punch-card ballots. Economus quoted the passage and said the same rule of equal treatment applies to the times for early voting. “This court finds the plaintiffs have a constitutionally protected right to participate in the 2012 election" on an equal basis with all Ohio voters, including military voters, the judge said in Obama for America vs. Husted.

Economus is a senior district judge and was appointed by President Bill Clinton.

Friday’s ruling was the second this week in which a federal judge in Ohio rejected a restrictive voting rule. On Monday, a judge said Ohio may not toss out provisional ballots that were cast by legal voters who, through no fault of their own, were in the wrong precinct.

Four years ago, 14,000 such ballots were rejected based on the “wrong precinct” rule. The judge noted that in many of Ohio’s cities, a single polling place serves voters from several precincts, so that even going to the right place did not guarantee a voter’s ballot would be counted.  

Friday’s decision on early voting days is likely to be appealed.

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