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In victory for Democrats, court OKs early voting in Ohio

By Michael Finnegan, Los Angeles Times –

LOS ANGELES — President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign won a legal victory Friday when a federal appeals court upheld an order that all voters in Ohio be allowed to cast ballots in person during the three days before the Nov. 6 election.

A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that a law prohibiting anyone other than military voters to cast ballots in person on the last three days before the election appeared to violate the constitutional right to equal protection under the law.

“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 court’s ruling.

The court cited a study that found 105,000 Ohioans voted in person at election board offices on the three days before the 2008 election. In the counties that include Cleveland and Columbus, the ruling said, early voters were disproportionately African-American. Some black churches organized bus transportation for worshipers after Sunday services.

The court rejected arguments by Ohio’s Republican secretary of state and attorney general that the weekend voting placed too much of a burden on local election offices preparing for a Tuesday election. The state produced “no evidence that local boards of election have struggled to cope with early voting in the past, and no evidence that they may struggle to do so during the November 2012 election.”

In fact, the court said early in-person voting might make the duties of poll workers easier. Officials from Ohio’s most populous county, Cuyahoga, which includes Cleveland, found that keeping in-person early voting on the weekend would instead relieve some of their workload by shortening lines at polling places on Election Day, the court said.

Bob Bauer, general counsel of the Obama campaign, said that with Friday’s ruling, “Ohio joins Wisconsin, Florida, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania as states that turned back restrictions on voter access and limitations on voter participation.”

Christopher Maloney, a spokesman for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, said, “We are disappointed by the 6th Circuit’s ruling and continue to stand with the 15 military groups who believe it is constitutional to grant special early-voting privileges to the brave men and women of our military.”

Even after the ruling, the matter may not be entirely settled. Ohio’s secretary of state and attorney general could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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