- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 30, 2008

COLUMBUS, Ohio | In a defeat for Republican challenges, state and federal courts have cleared the way for a weeklong period in which new voters can register and cast an absentee ballot on the same day in Ohio.

The early voting begins Tuesday and runs through Oct. 6.

The Ohio Supreme Court and a federal judge in Cleveland on Monday upheld the weeklong voting period. Later in the day, U.S. District Court Judge George Smith in Columbus declined to rule, deferring to the state Supreme Court decision.

But Judge Smith ruled that counties must allow party poll observers during early voting.

The decisions were a victory for Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat. Republicans had accused her of interpreting state law to benefit her own party.

The early-voting window became a partisan battle in this swing state where President Bush narrowly clinched re-election in 2004.

In a 4-3 decision, the Ohio Supreme Court said Miss Brunner was correct in ruling that voters don’t need to be registered for at least 30 days before receiving an absentee ballot, as Republicans had argued.

Although both Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign and the Republican National Committee have urged supporters in Ohio to use the early voting, Republican-backed lawsuits were filed against it.

Earlier Monday, U.S. District Judge James Gwin in Cleveland issued a temporary restraining order forcing Madison County to follow Miss Brunner’s instructions. The county had said that on the advice of its county prosecutor it was not going to allow same-day voting.

The Ohio Supreme Court has six Republicans and one Democrat. Judge Gwin was appointed to the bench by President Clinton.

In the day’s last courtroom battle, the Ohio Republican Party filed a statewide challenge in Columbus before Judge Smith, a federal judge appointed by President Reagan.

The ruling by the Ohio Supreme Court was a loss for two voters who had sued and were backed by the state Republican Party . Republicans argued that Ohio law requires voters to be registered for at least 30 days before they cast an absentee ballot and doesn’t allow same-day registration and voting.

But Miss Brunner interpreted the law correctly, Judge Gwin ruled.

“We believed all along the law was very clear,” said Carrie Davis, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, which brought the case against Madison County, west of Columbus.

The disputed voting window results from an overlap between Tuesday’s beginning of absentee voting 35 days before Election Day, and the Oct. 6 end of voter registration.

“The Republicans’ cynical 11th-hour ploy to disenfranchise Ohio voters has been soundly rejected in federal court,” said Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern.

Ohio Republican Party spokesman John McClelland did not immediately comment on the rulings.

Mr. Obama’s campaign has extensive plans to get college students around the state to register and vote during the window. Other groups, including the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, have plans to drive the homeless, low-income and minority voters to the polls during the window.

And despite the Republican legal action against the window, Sen. John McCain’s campaign and the Republican National Committee have encouraged voters to prepare for it.

“You have a special opportunity to help elect John McCain, Sarah Palin and Republicans across the ballot,” a page on the Republican National Committee’s Web site says. “Use this tool to locate your nearest early-voting center, where you can register and vote in person.”

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