After losing in the lower courts, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted announced last week that he would take his early-voting restrictions to the U.S. Supreme Court, hoping for a more favorable outcome.
In a victory for voting-rights advocates and Democrats, Husted lost at the high court, too.
The U.S. Supreme Court sealed a legal victory for President Barack Obama’s campaign in the pivotal state of Ohio, leaving intact a ruling that restored early voting rights for the weekend before the Nov. 6 election.
Ohio Republicans had sought to cancel early voting that weekend for everyone except members of the military. A U.S. appeals court blocked the plan last week, saying it probably violated the constitutional rights of non-military voters. In a one-sentence order, the Supreme Court today rejected a challenge to that ruling, filed by Ohio’s Republican secretary of state and attorney general.
To briefly recap for those who haven’t been following this story, Ohio had previously allowed voters an early-voting window of three days before Election Day, which in turn boosted turnout and alleviated long lines in 2008. This year, state Republican officials wanted to close the window – active-duty servicemen and women could vote early, but no one else, not even veterans, could enjoy the same right the weekend before the election.
President Obama’s campaign team filed suit, asking for a level playing field, giving every eligible Ohio voter – active-duty troops, veterans, and civilians – equal access. Ohio Republicans kept pushing back, pleading with one court after another to limit voters’ access.
Today, the Supreme Court effectively ended the fight.
Just yesterday, elections law expert Rick Hasen said the outcome of this case had the potential to dictate the outcome of the presidential race in Ohio, and by extension, possibly even the nation. For Democrats, that makes the outcome at the U.S. Supreme Court that much more encouraging.
Update: It’s worth keeping in mind that there are potentially some fights still looming, including at local elections boards in the state. We also do not yet know what additional procedural steps Husted might take.
Second Update: My colleague Laura Conaway, who’s covered this story closely, reminds me that Husted said last week that, in the event a defeat at the Supreme Court, he would set up uniform voting hours for each of Ohio’s 88 counties. Whether he’ll follow through remains to be seen.
Third Update: Husted has now issued a directive setting uniform hours on the Saturday, Sunday, and Monday before the election, and it’s online here (pdf). In a statement, he grudgingly conceded, “Today I have set uniform hours statewide, giving all Ohio voters the same opportunities to vote in the upcoming presidential election regardless of what county they live in.” That this is a concession the Ohio Secretary of State fought tirelessly not to make is rather remarkable, but as of this afternoon, it appears the fight is over.