WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has rejected an appeal from Ohio’s Republican leaders who sought to block early voting there on the final weekend before election day.
The justices without comment turned down an emergency appeal filed by Secretary of State Jon Husted.
The court’s action leaves intact rulings from two federal courts in Ohio that require the state to open the polls for all voters, including military personnel, on the Saturday, Sunday and Monday before the election.
Four years ago, more than 105,000 voters cast ballots during this final-weekend period, and a heavy turnout of African American voters gave a boost to Barack Obama’s winning campaign.
But last year, after Republicans took control of the Ohio Legislature and governor’s office, they voted to reduce the time for early voting and to close the polls on Friday, Nov. 2. They said this down time would allow election officials to prepare for election day on Tuesday, Nov. 6.
However, the Legislature also said the polls must be open on the weekend before election day to accept ballots from members of the military and their families. Lawmakers said that since military personnel can be deployed on short notice, they needed the last-minute opportunities to vote.
The Obama for America campaign sued in July, arguing that all the qualified voters deserved an equal right to vote early. A federal judge agreed, citing the Supreme Court’s Bush vs. Gore ruling of 2000 and its reference to “the right to vote on equal terms.” The 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upheld that decision on Oct. 5.
Husted, a Republican and former House speaker, appealed to the Supreme Court last week. He said the Constitution gives the states the power to set the rules for elections, and he said Ohio’s voters have ample opportunities to vote early. Under a directive from Husted’s office, Ohio’s polling places are open on all the weekdays from Oct. 2 to Nov. 2. In addition, all registered voters may cast ballots by mail, he said.
But Husted rejected appeals from Democrats, including several county election board officials, who said the polls should be open on some weekend days.
Obama’s campaign had urged the Supreme Court to steer clear of the dispute and to allow early voting on the final weekend before the election. General counsel Robert Bauer said Ohio had tried to create a system that was “as arbitrary as it is unique: nowhere else in the country will an eligible voter be turned away from a single, open polling place because the polling place is open for some voters, but not for that particular voter.”