As the November 2012 election approaches, Ohio has seen numerous state and federal lawsuits filed challenging the rules for this year’s contest. While lawsuits in 2008 focused on claims of voter fraud, the latest crop of suits allege voter suppression, challenging early voting rules and the way provisional ballots are cast and counted.
In one of the more contentious of the suits, Obama for America v. Husted, President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign teamed up with the Democratic National Committee and the Ohio Democratic Party to challenge the elimination of the final three days of early voting – Saturday, Sunday and Monday – before the election. The campaign and Democrats have argued that those three days were among the most popular for early in-person voters in 2008, but Republicans and elections officials have argued that boards of elections need those days to prepare for Election Day. Plaintiffs have argued that current law has resulted in arbitrary distinctions between military and everyday voters, violating constitutional equal protection rights. Military voters are allowed to vote at a local board of elections during the final three days before the election if the elections office is open, including the Monday before Election Day, despite a directive Husted issued on August 15 that sets standard hours of operation for county boards of election and that does not allow for weekend hours. Attorneys for Secretary of State Jon Husted said that military voters face unique circumstances normal voters do not in the few days before the election, such as being called away for active duty just prior to Election Day. The August 15 directive sparked controversy and resulted in the August 28 dismissal by Husted of two Montgomery County Board of Elections members that voted for a motion to extend in-person early voting hours to include weekends.
But on August 31, U.S. District Court Judge Peter Economus sided with the plaintiffs, ordering Husted to restore the final three days of early in-person voting. Judge Economus concluded that plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits of their case and said provisions passed by the 129th General Assembly ending early in-person voting violated the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution. In his order, Economus required Husted to restore the three days of early in-person voting. As part of his response to the decision, Husted has issued a new directive specifically banning county boards of elections from authorizing any in-person early voting on the final weekend before the election while he appeals the decision. The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has set an expedited briefing schedule for the appeal, with first briefs due by September 10, while the final briefs are due September 21.
Other lawsuits making their way through the courts include a challenge to the removal of the House Bill 194 referendum from the ballot; challenges regarding how provisional ballots are handled; a lawsuit alleging that Ohio has failed to take reasonable steps to maintain clear voter registration lists; and a challenge to the ballot language set by the Ohio Ballot Board for Issue 2, which would change the way Ohio draws its congressional and General Assembly lines.