We've been keeping a close eye on Republican efforts to suppress early voting in Ohio, and Democratic efforts to create a level playing field. Today, a federal court delivered a major victory to those who support expansive voting rights and opportunities.
U.S. District Court Senior Judge Peter C. Economus ordered Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted not to enforce a state law passed last year that closed that window to in-person early voting to anyone but members of the military and their families.
"This Court notes that restoring in-person early voting to all Ohio voters through the Monday before Election Day does not deprive (military) voters from early voting,'' wrote Judge Economus, a Clinton appointee. "Instead, and more importantly, it places all Ohio voters on equal standing.
"The only hindrance to (military) early voting is the Secretary of State's failure to set uniform hours at elections boards during the last three days before Election Day,'' he wrote. "On balance, the right of Ohio voters to vote in person during the last three days prior to Election Day -- a right previously conferred to all voters by the State -- outweighs the State's interest in setting the 6 p.m. Friday deadline.''
[Update: the ruling is available online here.]
To briefly recap for those who haven't been following this story, Ohio allowed voters an early-voting window of three days before Election Day, which in turn boosted turnout and alleviated long lines. This year, Republican officials wanted to close the window -- active-duty servicemen and women could vote early, but no one else, not even veterans, could enjoy the same right.
One prominent Republican official recently conceded he opposes weekend voting because it would "accommodate the urban -- read African American -- voter-turnout machine."
President Obama's campaign team filed suit, asking for a level playing field, giving every eligible Ohio voter -- active-duty troops, veterans, and civilians -- equal access. Today, a federal court agreed. If the ruling stands, every eligible Ohio voter will be able to cast a ballot during the three-day, early-voting window leading up to Election Day on Nov. 6.
In an amusing twist, the ruling even cites Bush v. Gore. Economus wrote the "Court stresses that where the state has authorized in-person early voting through the Monday before Election Day for all voters, 'the state may not, by later arbitrary and disparate treatment, value one person's vote over that of another.' "Here, that is precisely what the state has done."
Ohio will surely appeal, but for now, this is a major development that may even influence the outcome of the presidential race -- the more Ohio voters have access to their own elections process, the harder it is for Republicans to win.