By Marc Kovac
A federal appeals court has sided with President Barack Obama’s election campaign, affirming an earlier decision forcing Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted to open early voting on the Saturday, Sunday and Monday before Election Day.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit decision Friday noted that a state law change closing the polls on the Friday before Election Day “is unconstitutional to the extent that it prohibits nonmilitary voters from voting during this period” and “the state is enjoined from preventing those voters from participating in early voting.”
The judges wrote, “The preliminary injunction ensures that all Ohio voters — military, overseas, and nonmilitary — are afforded the same opportunity for in-person early voting.”
In a released statement Friday, Husted said he was reviewing the decision “as we determine the best course of action moving forward.”
He added, “No action will be taken today or this weekend.”
The Obama campaign sued after changes in state law allowed men and women serving in the military to cast early ballots on the three days before Election Day but barred all other eligible voters from doing the same. The campaign argued all voters should be allowed the same early voting opportunities and sought to force Husted to open early polls on those three days.
Legal counsel for Husted and Attorney General Mike DeWine countered that it was fully proper and constitutional for the state to offer special accommodations to military voters. They also said election boards need time on the final days before an election to complete their regular responsibilities, given the commitment required during Ohio’s early voting period.
But federal Judge Peter C. Economus sided with the Obama campaign and ordered Husted to restore the three days of early voting.
Husted initially issued a directive blocking county boards from opening the polls on the final Saturday, Sunday and Monday before Nov. 6 while the state appealed the decision. But he quickly rescinded that directive and offered an apology after Judge Economus scheduled another hearing on the issue, questioning whether Husted was refusing to follow his orders.
Since then, a number of county elections boards around the state have set hours for the final three days, though those hours likely will have to be reset after Husted issues an expected directive establishing uniform early voting times for all counties.
Husted said Friday that his office would “make a determination on how to proceed legally and provide administrative guidance to Ohio’s boards of elections” Monday.
In its decision Friday, the appeals court acknowledged that elections officials “have much to accomplish during the final few days before the election,” but added, “the state has shown no evidence indicating how this election will be more onerous than the numerous other elections that have been successfully administered in Ohio since early voting was put into place in 2005.”
The court also called the state’s attempt to accommodate military voters “a worthy and commendable goal. However, while there is a compelling reason to provide more opportunities for military voters to cast their ballots, there is no corresponding satisfactory reason to prevent nonmilitary voters from casting their ballots as well.”
The decision brought cheers from Statehouse Democrats, who have pushed for weekend voting hours.
“This is a huge victory for all Ohio voters,” Rep. Kathleen Clyde, a Democrat from Kent, said in a released statement. “Ohioans should now have access to the polls during the three busiest days of early voting, the Saturday, Sunday and Monday before Election Day.