President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign on Tuesday filed a federal lawsuit against Ohio’s top elections official in a dispute over the battleground state’s law that restricts early, in-person voting during the three days beforeElection Day.
The lawsuit filed in Columbus comes after a series of election lawchanges cleared the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature and were signed by Republican Gov. John Kasich.
Obama’s campaign and Democrats argue that the law unfairly ends early, in-person voting for most Ohioans on the Friday evening before the Tuesday election, while allowing military and overseas voters to cast a ballot in person until Monday.
Before the changes to the law, local boards of election had the discretion to set their own early, in-person voting hours on the days before the election. And in-person voting on the weekend varied among the state’s 88 counties.
The state’s elections chief, Secretary of State Jon Husted, has argued that all counties should have the same early voting hours and be open on the same days. Husted and his fellow Republicans contend it’s unfair that a voter in one county can cast an early ballot on a day when a voter in a neighboring county cannot.
“I didn’t see a lawsuit occur when six counties had weekend voting and extended hours and 82 of them didn’t,” Husted said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I’m sympathetic to the idea that we should have consistency, because that’s exactly what we’ve been doing on a number of fronts.”
Obama for America was joined in the lawsuit by the Democratic National Committee and the Ohio Democratic Party.
Ohio is one of 32 states that allow voters to cast an early ballot by mail or in person without an excuse. About 30 percent of swing state’s total vote — or roughly 1.7 million ballots — came in ahead of Election Day in 2008.
Obama won Ohio in last presidential election, but Republican rival Mitt Romney is expected to make a strong play for it.
The state doesn’t track its early voters by party, so the stats don’t show exactly how much Obama might have benefited from early voting in Ohio. But both parties are sure he did.
An extended voting period is perceived as benefiting Democrats because it increases voting opportunities for those harder to reach for an Election Day turnout — Hispanics, blacks, new citizens and poor people.
Asked why the lawsuit shouldn’t be seen as a political play by the campaign, the state’s Democratic Party chairman, Chris Redfern, told reporters Tuesday that he assumes that both parties will be working to get out the vote