15 states back Ohio in early voting case

Updated at: 10/13/2012 1:35 AM
By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS

(AP) COLUMBUS, Ohio - Fifteen states and several military organizations announced their support for Ohio’s elections chief on Friday in a dispute over early voting in the presidential battleground, which is being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted has appealed a lower court ruling that reinstates early voting on the three days before Election Day and returns discretion to local boards of elections. The Republican also has asked the Supreme Court to delay the lower court’s decision while it decides whether to take the case.

The campaign of President Barack Obama, which sued the state over the early voting, says a new Ohio law unfairly ends early, in-person voting for most Ohioans on the Friday evening before the Tuesday election, while allowing military and overseas voters to cast a ballot in person until Monday.

Before the changes to the law, local boards of election had the discretion to set their own early, in-person voting hours on the days before the election. And in-person voting on the weekend varied among the state’s 88 counties.

Husted has argued that all counties should have the same early voting hours and be open on the same days.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week reinstated early voting on the final three days. But the three-judge panel also said local boards of elections would have the discretion to decide whether to allow voters to cast an early ballot on the weekend and Monday before Election Day _ just as they could in 2008.

"While we readily acknowledge the need to provide military voters more time to vote, we see no corresponding justification for giving others less time," Judge Eric L. Clay wrote in the opinion.

Attorneys general for 15 states said in a court filing Friday that the Constitution gives states exclusive power to set the time, place and manner for voting. They also said the appeals court overstated the significance of eliminating those days, since Ohio already provides 23 days for in-person or absentee early voting.

The states also say the lower court disregarded the special status of military voters.

"It is not irrational for Ohio to have done so here given the personal sacrifice and special circumstances of those who put themselves in harm’s way to protect our country’s freedom," the states argued.

The Obama campaign asked the Supreme Court on Friday to deny Ohio’s appeal of the lower court’s ruling. The campaign said Husted has not shown a likelihood of success and the facts of the case are unique to Ohio without broad implication elsewhere.

"The Ohio system ... is unique," the campaign argued. 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."

Husted disagreed, saying the case has widespread impact.

"If allowed to stand, the precedent set by this decision in the state of Ohio will have far reaching consequences for all 50, whether they are `red,’ `blue,’ or `swing’ states," Husted said in a statement.

Military groups backing Ohio include the National Guard Association of the United States, the Association of the U.S. Army, Association of the U.S. Navy, the Marine Corps League, and the Military Officers Association of America.

The states that filed in support of Ohio are Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Democratic state senators in Ohio also urged the Supreme Court on Friday to reject Husted’s appeal.

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Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached at http://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)