Fight ends over early voting in Ohio as US Supreme Court refuses to step in
Ohio had sought to cut short in-person early voting this year, but federal courts ruled it could not, citing potential disenfranchisement of older and low-income voters. On Tuesday, the US Supreme Court declined to enter fray in this key electoral state.
The US Supreme Court on Tuesday declined an invitation to enter a raging election-year legal dispute in Ohio over the state legislature’s decision to eliminate one form of early voting for most voters in the three days prior to the Nov. 6 election.Skip to next paragraph
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The action lets stand earlier decisions clearing the way for all Ohio voters to engage in early voting on the Saturday, Sunday, and Monday before Election Day.
The high court action comes less than three weeks before Election Day and more than two weeks after voters in Ohio began casting early ballots on Oct 2.
At issue in the case was a law that closed one form of early voting in Ohio on the three days before Election Day, for all voters except military personnel and overseas residents.
Critics saw the move as an attempt by the Republican-controlled legislature to undercut the ability of minority voters to cast ballots by restricting early voting on the weekend before the election.
The Obama campaign and the Democratic Party sued, claiming the state law granted an unfair advantage to certain voters but not others in violation of the Constitution’s equal protection clause.
A federal judge agreed and ordered the state to let everyone cast in-person absentee ballots on those three days. That decision was upheld by a panel of the Sixth US Circuit Court of Appeals.
The lower courts found that early voting tended to be used by women, older and lower-income voters, and a significant number of African-Americans. The election law changes posed more than just an inconvenience or burden to those voters, the courts said.
The judges concluded that potentially “thousands of voters who would have voted during those three days will not be able to exercise their right to cast a vote in person.”
The state’s explanation for the voting change (to allow election boards to prepare for Election Day) did not justify the potential disenfranchisement of those voters, the courts ruled.
The appeals court cited the controversial US Supreme Court decision Bush v. Gore: “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.”
In the Ohio case, the lower courts ordered state election officials to offer early voting to all voters on the three days prior to the election.
Ohio officials last week asked the Supreme Court to temporarily block the ruling and allow the state law to take full effect for the approaching election. On Tuesday, the court rejected the request without comment.
Ohio officials had argued that the appeals court judges wrongly concluded that selectively allowing military voters to engage in in-person absentee voting on the three days prior to Election Day would undermine other Ohio voters’ fundamental right to cast a ballot.