President's election campaign takes issue with Husted directive

By MARC KOVAC C-N Capital Bureau Published:

COLUMBUS -- President Barack Obama's election campaign has asked a federal judge to force Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted to open early polls on the Saturday, Sunday and Monday before Election Day.

Obama for America wants U.S. District Judge Peter Economus to order Husted to follow the court's ruling last week to restore early in-person voting on the final three days before Nov. 6.

The move came a day after Husted issued a directive to county election boards barring them from opening on the first weekend in November while he and Attorney General Mike DeWine appeal Economus' decision.

"Having sought no stay, either in this court or the court of appeals, the state appears to believe it can issue one on its own authority," legal counsel for the campaign wrote in the filing Wednesday. "Nowhere in this directive does the secretary identify the legal basis for this extraordinary action ... ."

The filing is the latest in a series of near-daily legal maneuvers pitting Democrats against Husted for his decision to limit early voting to specified regular business hours on weekdays.

Husted and his supporters have said Ohioans have ample opportunities to cast ballots in person or through the mail in the weeks before November's presidential election. They say voters in all Ohio counties are being treated the same, with uniform hours and unsolicited absentee ballot applications sent by Husted's office to all eligible voters.

"We think it's really easy to vote in this election," Matt McClellan, spokesman for Husted, noting that voters will have 750 hours to cast absentee ballots by mail and 230 hours to submit those ballots in person. "There's ample time for voters to cast a ballot."

But the Obama campaign, Statehouse Democrats and other critics say Husted's decisions will hurt low-income, elderly and minority voters, limiting their ability to cast ballots in person and potentially leading to long lines that could dissuade urban voters from participating.

"My Republican colleagues often say we should run government like a business," Sen. Tom Sawyer, D-Akron, said in a released statement. "In the business world, stores stay open longer on nights and weekends during the holiday shopping season. Shouldn't boards of election do the same for a presidential election that will likely see high voter turnout?"

Husted is facing a series of lawsuits on election-related issues, including one from the Obama campaign, which sued after changes in state law allowed men and women serving in the military to cast early ballots on the three days prior to Election Day but barred all other eligible voters from doing the same.

The campaign argued all eligible voters should be allowed the same early voting opportunities and sought to force Husted to open early polls on those three days.

Legal counsel for Husted and DeWine countered that it was fully proper and constitutional for the state to offer special accommodations to military voters.

Economus last week sided with the Obama campaign, however, and ordered Husted to restore the three days of early voting. DeWine filed an appeal of that decision on Tuesday, said his spokesman, Dan Tierney, with subsequent filings from both sides due over the course of the next three weeks.

No decision is expected before Sept. 21, the day the final state filing is due.

On Tuesday, Husted issued another directive to county election boards prohibiting them from opening on the days in question before a decision on the appeal is finalized.

Husted wrote that "there is no valid reason" to open early voting on the Saturday, Sunday and Monday prior to Nov. 6 while legal proceedings over the issue continue, though he did indicate there was ample time to reverse course if an appellate court upholds Economus' decision.

"We are following the judge's ruling," McClellan said, noting that the judge did not include a specific timeframe for restoring early voting. "... The secretary will issue a directive to address those three days, but we wanted to work through the appeals process first. ... We feel it's in the best interests of the voters in the state to wait to issue a directive on that."

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