The Supreme Court’s conservatives cleared the way Monday for Ohio to restrict early voting in the state, on the eve of the day it was to start. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

The Supreme Court’s conservatives cleared the way Monday for Ohio to restrict early voting in the state, on the eve of the day it was to start.

The court granted the state’s request to stay decisions of lower courts that threw out the state’s new plan, passed by the Republican-led legislature. But the court’s four liberal justices said they would have stayed out of the case and left those decisions in place.

Ohio argued that the new plan--reducing from 35 to 28 the number of days voters could cast an early ballot--could not be seen as violating the rights of minority voters.

“Ohio offers more early-voting options than 41 other states and the District of Columbia,” its petition to the court said.

But a group of challengers led by the ACLU and NAACP said there was no reason for Ohio to reduce early voting except to discourage turnout.

The lower court rulings disallowing the new plan “does nothing more than maintain the same early voting rules that have governed the last four general elections in Ohio, and which voters are currently expecting,” the groups told the Supreme Court.

One key element eliminated by the legislature is a so-called golden week, when people may register to vote and cast ballots. The new plan also eliminated voting on the Sunday before the election, which was heavily used by minority voters.

U.S. District Judge Peter C. Economus this month threw out the plans and told the state to proceed under its old rules. Economus ruled that the new law would unconstitutionally and disproportionately affect blacks and the poor, who tend to cast early in-person votes at a greater rate than whites. Economus also ruled that county boards of elections may add voting hours, which the law had forbidden.

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit upheld the judge’s order.

The Supreme Court’s brief order, which followed a quick round of briefing on the issue, noted that Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan would have denied the stay request.

Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted brought the case to the Supreme Court.

The ruling by the lower court “eliminates elected officials’ ability to do what we elected them to do . . . Whether we vote 35 or 28 days, by mail or in person this November, elected officials and not federal judges should be making Ohio law,” he said.

There has been a long legal battle over voting in Ohio since 2004, when long election-day lines meant some Ohio residents actually missed the chance to vote.

When Democrats have run the legislature, they have passed laws that create extensive early voting opportunities, and Republicans have sought to trim those back when they have control.