Ohio’s Early Voting Upheld by Supreme Court

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Early voting can continue in Ohio for all voters, after the Supreme Court declined (pdf) Tuesday to consider a case brought by state officials that would have halted the procedure for everyone except members of the military in the last three days before the election.

The swing state began early voting in 2005, after voters waited in long lines into the early morning during the 2004 presidential election.

Early voting has been popular in the state ever since, hitting a peak in 2008, when nearly 30 percent of voters — an estimated 1.7 million Ohioans — voted early. Most of those voters (pdf) were women, low-income and elderly people. They were also overwhelmingly African-American, and they voted in large numbers for Barack Obama.

This year, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, concluded that early voting would be an undue burden for state officials as they prepared for the official Election Day, but that military members might have last-minute duties that would prevent them from casting ballots on Election Day and should have extra time.

The Obama campaign and Ohio’s Democratic Party went to court, arguing that removing those three early voting days for most voters wasn’t necessary and could even violate the Constitution, which guarantees equal protection under the law.

The district court and the court of appeals agreed.

Under the ruling, Ohio’s 88 counties now have discretion to determine when to open the polls on those three days — but they are banned from closing them entirely.

In Cuyahoga County, Ohio’s largest, the county election chairman said the extra voting days aren’t likely to be a burden.

Jeff Hastings, a Republican, said that unlike his Democratic colleagues, he had supported the new policy because, he said, there are already plenty of early-voting opportunities without the last three days.

Still, Hastings, who spoke to FRONTLINE before the Supreme Court decision, said that Cuyahoga would be prepared to handle the extra days.

“People will come out and vote, and that’s what we’re in the business of doing,” he said. “I don’t think (the extra days are) necessary, but if the courts say you have to do it, you have to do it.”

Early voting in Ohio began Oct. 2, and appears set to meet the 2008 levels, with nearly 1.2 million voters planning to vote early, either by mail or in person.

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