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Ohio to proceed with absentee voting after courts rule on registration requirements

[JURIST] Absentee voting began Tuesday in Ohio after the Ohio Supreme Court [official website] and two federal district courts rejected Republican Party challenges to an Ohio secretary of state directive [PDF text]. By a 4-3 vote, the state Supreme Court on Monday upheld [case announcement, PDF] an interpretation of Ohio election statutes [text] by Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner [official website] allowing a one-week overlap before the end of voter registration and after the beginning of absentee balloting. The Supreme Court was ruling on a petition [case materials] filed by voters who alleged that Ohio law required a voter to be registered for 30 days before casting a ballot. Although the court has not yet released an opinion explaining its reasoning, it concluded that voters must be registered 30 days before the election, rather than 30 days before applying for or completing an absentee ballot. Brunner released a statement [press release] calling the decision "a victory for all Ohio voters." She continued:

It should send a message to the forces of confusion and chaos that our top goal must be protecting Ohioans’ voting rights. The Ohio Supreme Court today moved quickly to clarify that any unregistered Ohioan may both register and vote on the same day at boards or elections or their satellite locations in Ohio for a period of seven days.
Robert T. Bennett, chairman of the Ohio Republican Party expressed disappointment in the decision, accusing Brunner [press release] of "partisan efforts to aide the Democrat turnout strategy." Also on Monday, a federal district judge in Cleveland ruled [opinion, PDF] in another lawsuit that the Madison County Board of Elections must comply with the directive. In Columbus, a second district judge declined to rule on the overlap issue in light of the Supreme Court decision, although he did enter a temporary restraining order allowing observers to be present when absentee voters cast ballots in person. AP has more. The Columbus Dispatch has local coverage. Cleveland's Plain Dealer has additional local coverage.

Voters and advocacy groups have challenged Ohio elections procedures since the state's pivotal role in the 2004 presidential campaign. In February, a federal judge rejected [ACLU materials] the American Civil Liberties Union's request for a preliminary injunction [JURIST report] to prevent the state's largest county from using a paper balloting system in the March primary election. The state later agreed not to use paper ballots in subsequent elections. In 2006, the state and advocacy groups reached a settlement [JURIST report] in a lawsuit challenging the state's voter identification law. According to that agreement, voters must continue to show proof of ID when applying for an absentee ballot, but absentee ballots obtained without ID were still counted after a settlement.

10/1/08 - The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [official website] late Tuesday issued a brief opinion [PDF text] denying the Ohio Republican Party's motion for an injunction requiring that absentee ballots cast by newly registered voters be segregated from other ballots. The court also granted Brunner's motion to stay the district court's temporary restraining order allowing observers to be present when absentee votes are cast in person. AP has more.

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