The Obama campaign won a legal victory today when the Supreme Court declined to step in and allow Ohio’s early in-person voting limitation to take effect.
After two lower federal courts ruled in favor of the Obama campaign and enjoined the law, Ohio’s Republican leaders had appealed their case to the Supreme Court.
But today, in a one-sentence order, the Court declined Ohio’s appeal. There were no noted dissents.
The Obama campaign and Democratic officials in Ohio had challenged the law, which allows only military voters to cast their ballots in person three days prior to the election, arguing that it would burden tens of thousands of Ohio voters who in previous elections had been able to vote during the same time period.
Lawyers for the Democrats had sued the state under the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, arguing that the state was providing differential access to the ballot box on arbitrary terms.
“We are pleased that the US Supreme Court declined to overturn federal court rulings that every Ohioan be allowed to vote during the weekend and Monday before the election,” wrote Robert Bauer, the general counsel for Obama for America, in a statement. ”This action from the highest court in the land marks the end of the road in our fight to ensure open voting this year for all Ohioans, including military, veterans, and overseas voters. We now turn our full attention to educating Ohio voters on when and how they can vote along with presenting the clear choice they face when selecting their next President.”
In response to the Supreme Court’s order, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted issued a directive to all County Boards of Elections establishing uniform hours for in-person absentee voting on the Saturday, Sunday and Monday before Election Day. The hours are for military and nonmilitary voters alike.
“Now all voters in Ohio will have the opportunity to do in-person early voting, where they otherwise wouldn’t have,” says election law expert Edward B. Foley from the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. “That makes the availability of early voting look more like 2008 when roughly 100,000 voters took advantage of the early vote. Expectation of political scientists in general is that demographically the segment of the electorate that prefers in-person early voting is an urban community.”
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals said that evidence in the record showed that early voters were “more likely than election-day voters to be women, older, and of lower income and education attainment.”
Ohio Attorney General Michael DeWine and Secretary of State Jon Husted had argued that what was at issue was a “modest reduction” of in-person absentee voting and that voters who had previously used the three-day period to vote in person still had alternative means of casting a ballot.
“It cannot seriously be argued,” the Ohio officials argued in court briefs, “that any voter — let alone an entire class of voters — has been disenfranchised when Ohio still offers [non-military voters] 230 hours of in-person absentee voting, more than 750 hours of absentee voting by mail, and 13 hours of voting on Election Day.”
Ohio said that the law was necessary so that local election officials had ample time to prepare for the election and that it also provided protection for military voters who might suddenly be called to duty.
Ohio officials, joined by 15 other Republican attorneys general had said that the lower court decision in the case “impinges” on state sovereignty.
In 2008 approximately 105,000 voters in Ohio took advantage of the early vote in the three days prior to the election.