Ohio Republicans should let ruling by federal judge stand

What has changed since 2008 when all Ohioans had the chance to vote on the Saturday, Sunday and Monday before the general election? A cynic might say that the Republican takeover of state government has led Gov. John Kasich, the General Assembly, Secretary of State Jon Husted and Attorney General Mike DeWine to conspire to influence the outcome of the presidential election in Ohio by suppressing the Democratic vote.

Rather than indulge in such cynical thinking, we’ll merely point out that nothing has changed since the last presidential election, and that the Republicans are simply misguided. They see problems where none exist. They offer a specious argument that boards of elections have too much work to do on the days leading up to the Nov. 6 general election to allow the masses to cast absentee ballots in person.

The men and women of the armed forces will be permitted to vote on those three days as a result of a law passed by the General Assembly, which is fine. How are the Republicans getting away with establishing two sets of rules for voters in Ohio? They aren’t — at least as it now stands.

U.S. District Court Judge Peter C. Economus, who had served in Youngstown and was a Mahoning County Common Pleas Court judge before he was appointed to the federal bench by President Bill Clinton, declared that the election law changes were unconstitutional and he barred Husted from “implementing or enforcing” them.

Here’s what Judge Economus, who is serving on senior status, also said in his opinion: “This court anticipates that defendant secretary of state will direct all Ohio elections boards to maintain a specific, consistent schedule on those three days in keeping with his earlier directive that only by doing so can he ensure that Ohio’s election process is ‘uniform, accessible for all, fair and secure.’”

But the secretary of state has instructed boards of elections not to establish hours for in-person voting for all Ohioans who want to take advantage of a process that was in place four years ago.

Why is Husted not complying with Economus’ order? Because Attorney General DeWine has appealed his ruling to the federal appeals court. Republicans are earning a reputation for attempting to erect barriers to voting, especially when it comes to minorities, the elderly and college-age voters. Republicans swept the 2010 statewide election, but they risk a public backlash if they continue to take action that smacks of extreme partisanship.

National ridicule

They are unnecessarily holding Ohio up to national ridicule — again — by pursuing the misguided strategy of playing favorites.

It is instructive that the GOP nationally accused the campaign of President Obama of trying to block members of the military from voting early at the boards of elections because it challenged the law passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by Kasich.

As Judge Economus noted, thousands of Ohioans voted in the three days prior to the 2008 general election. He said in his ruling the state offered little support for its claim that boards of elections cannot simultaneously accommodate in-person voting and pre-Election Day preparations.

Absent solid evidence that the 2008 election was compromised because boards of elections were distracted by in-person early voting, the state should abandon its challenge of Judge Economus’ ruling. Husted should instruct the boards to permit any voter who wants to cast a ballot on Saturday, Sunday or Monday before the election to do so.

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