COLUMBUS (AP) — Two Ohio Supreme Court justices removed themselves Thursday from cases involving challenges to early-voting procedures, clearing the way for a Democrat to join the all-Republican court making decisions with partisan implications in a hotly contested swing state this presidential election.
Justices Evelyn Lundberg Stratton and Maureen O’Connor stepped down from deciding a challenge to a weeklong period beginning Sept. 30 during which new voters can register to vote and cast an absentee ballot on the same day. The justices also recused themselves from two separate cases in which voters are challenging Democratic Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner’s decision to reject absentee ballot applications administered by the campaign of Republican presidential candidate John McCain because they weren’t filled out properly.
Per normal protocol, the two justices did not provide a reason for stepping aside. But both Republicans are running for re-election on this year’s ballot.
Stratton will be replaced by William Wolff Jr., a Democrat on the Second District Court of Appeals. O’Connor will be replaced by Republican Lynn Slaby of the 9th District Court of Appeals. Both are retiring after completing their current terms.
Chief Justice Thomas Moyer wanted to ensure that there’s confidence that the decisions are made by an independent and impartial panel, said Ohio Supreme Court spokesman Chris Davey.
Ohio Republicans have accused Brunner of bold partisanship for instructing county boards of elections to have procedures in place to allow voters to register and vote on the same day from Sept. 30 through Oct. 6. They have said Ohio law requires voters to have been registered for at least 30 days before they can cast a ballot.
The overlap between the beginning of absentee voting and the end of registration has been around since 1981. Few voters used the window until a 2005 law, passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature, enabled all Ohioans to vote absentee without having to provide a reason, such as living out of state. The Nov. 4 election marks the first time the law has applied during a presidential election year.