Supreme Court won’t get involved in Ohio early-voting dispute


In this Oct. 2, 2012 file photo, voters stand in line outside the Hamilton County Board of Elections just before it opened for early voting, in Cincinnati. (Al Behrman/AP)

The Supreme Court delivered a victory to President Obama’s reelection campaign Tuesday, saying it would not set aside a lower court’s ruling that all Ohio voters be allowed to cast ballots in the three days before the Nov. 6 election.

The Obama campaign had sued the state over its decision to end early voting on the Friday before the election for all but members of the military. The campaign said the decision would disproportionately affect poor, elderly and low-income voters, who are most likely to take advantage of early voting.

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit agreed. It said that if Ohio is going to open polls for military voters during the Saturday, Sunday and Monday before the election, it must allow all voters to participate.

“While there is a compelling reason to provide more opportunities for military voters to cast their ballots, there is no corresponding satisfactory reason to prevent nonmilitary voters from casting their ballots as well,” the appeals court said.

Without comment, the Supreme Court turned down Ohio’s request to revisit the lower court ruling. There were no noted dissents to the decision.

About 105,000 voters cast ballots during the three days in question in 2008.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) said that the state already had an unprecedented amount of early voting — the polls opened on Oct. 2 — and that local election officials needed the three days to prepare for Election Day. He decided not to ask the full 6th Circuit to review the panel’s decision, and went straight to the Supreme Court.

That put the court in a potentially sensitive position, given the high-profile nature of the Obama campaign’s challenge of voting procedures in a state critical to Obama and Republican Mitt Romney.

Ohio’s petition went first to Justice Elena Kagan, who is responsible for emergencies arising from the 6th Circuit. She referred the matter to the entire court.

The appeals court’s ruling said that local officials could decide whether to open polls during those three days preceding the election. But Husted said it is important that the state have uniform rules, and responded immediately to the Supreme Court’s action by telling local officials to open polls all three days.

“I firmly believe Ohio and its elected legislature should set the rules with respect to elections in Ohio, and not the federal court system,” Husted said in a statement. “However, the time has come to set aside the issue for this election.”

Bob Bauer, general counsel for Obama for America, said in a statement that the Supreme Court’s action “marks the end of the road in our fight to ensure open voting this year for all Ohioans, including military, veterans, and overseas voters.”

A separate 6th Circuit panel overturned Ohio’s law requiring election offices to throw out provisional ballots that had been incorrectly cast because of a poll worker’s mistake.

The court ruled that those votes must be counted, and a spokesman for Attorney General Mike DeWine (R) said Tuesday that he has not decided whether to appeal that ruling.

Robert Barnes has been a Washington Post reporter and editor since 1987. He has covered the Supreme Court since November 2006.
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