Federal court rules Ohio counties can have early voting on weekend before election

A federal appeals court panel ruled Friday that Ohio counties can keep polls open for in-person early voting the three days before the election, delivering a win to the Obama campaign after months of legal wrangling over the battleground state’s election rules.

The campaign had gone to court to challenge a state law that for most voters would have ended early voting the final weekend before the election, one of a slew of restrictions instituted by the GOP-dominated Ohio legislature last year in what critics said was an effort to tamp down turnout by the minority voters who typically make greater use of early voting.

With the ruling, almost all of those restrictions have now been reversed, either by the courts or by the legislature itself, which repealed many of the restrictions after opponents gathered enough signatures to put them to a referendum. The rules in place in Ohio will now be largely the same as those in 2008.

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The apeals court ruled that the Ohio law, which allowed uniformed members of the military and Americans overseas to vote early on those days but not other Ohio voters, was unconstitutional because it privileged some voters over others.

“The hard work to protect Americans’ right to vote has paid off,” said the Obama campaign’s general counsel, Bob Bauer, in a statement. “We are now focused on making sure that voters across the country fully understand their rights, know exactly what their voting laws require of them, and clarify when they can cast their ballot.”

Ohio was one of many states that tightened their election rules to restrict early voting or impose photo identification mandates after the 2008 election. Courts have overturned many of those rules, finding in some cases that photo ID requirements had a discriminatory impact on minority voters who are less likely to have the required documents.

Early voting began in Ohio on Tuesday.