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Ohio asks to curb early voting (UPDATED)

UPDATED 4:55 pm   Justice Kagan has asked for a response to the Ohio application, to be filed by 7 p.m. on Friday.


State officials in Ohio on Tuesday asked the Supreme Court for permission to close the voting booths to early voters on the weekend prior to election day on November 6, for all but overseas military voters.   The Sixth Circuit Court, in a ruling sought by President Obama’s campaign and by the Democratic Party, ruled that excluding non-military voters from casting their ballots on the Saturday, Sunday, and Monday just before election day would unconstitutionally deny the opportunity to vote to citizens who have lower incomes and are less educated.

The dispute fits into a nationwide pattern in which state officials have moved to narrow voting opportunities, with Republicans arguing that those steps were needed to prevent fraud and to allow election officials to conduct elections in an orderly way, and with Democrats claiming that the efforts are designed to reduce voting by groups that are assumed to favor Democratic candidates.   Ohioans have already started early voting, with crowds seeking to do so on the first days of this form of “absentee” balloting.   Although conducted under absentee voting laws, the early voting at issue actually occurs in person.

The application (Husted v. Obama for America, 12A338) was filed with Justice Elena Kagan, who is the Circuit Justice for emergency matters in the Sixth Circuit group of states, including Ohio.   She has the authority to act on her own or to share it with her eight colleagues — a likely step.   The state is seeking a delay of the Sixth Circuit ruling until it can appeal that to the Supreme Court.

Noting that the Supreme Court has ruled that there is no constitutional right to vote by absentee ballot, the state officials contended that restrictions on the right to cast such votes are to be judged by the most relaxed constitutional standard.  They also contended that there can be no serious argument that the state is disenfranchising any voter or class of voters, because its laws provide for 230 hours of in-person early voting, more than 750 hours of absentee voting by mail, and 13 hours of in-person voting on election day itself.

“The Sixth Circuit’s ruling that lower income and less educated voters would not be able to vote at all other than through in-person absentee voting on these three particular days finds no support in fact or law,” the application argued. “The state’s important regulatory interests in preparing for election day,while accommodating a small number of military voters and their families, are more than sufficient to justify this de minimis inconvenience to voters.”

In defending the decision to shut down voting on the three days prior to November 6, the Ohio officials noted that about 70 percent of the state’s voters go to the polls on election day itself, and officials must use the final weekend as they set up more than 9,000 polling locations throughout the state.

Justice Kagan is expected to seek a response from the Democratic interests before taking action.

Recommended Citation: Lyle Denniston, Ohio asks to curb early voting (UPDATED), SCOTUSblog (Oct. 9, 2012, 4:06 PM),