- Associated Press - Thursday, August 20, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - The Ohio Democratic Party and two of its county organizations are seeking to join a federal lawsuit filed in May that alleges that election laws and rules in the political battleground state disproportionately burden Democratic-leaning voters.

The Ohio Organizing Collaborative brought the case. But in court filings last week, the organization’s attorneys asked Magistrate Judge Norah McCann King to let it withdraw and substitute in its place the state’s Democratic Party and Cuyahoga and Montgomery county parties.

“OOC is a non-profit organization with limited resources, and it does not have the institutional capability to remain as a plaintiff,” attorneys wrote in court documents.

Attorneys also want to amend their case to drop claims related to absentee and provisional ballots that overlap with those in a separate lawsuit.

In a court filing Thursday, the state did not object to the substitution of the parties, but said it would oppose any effort to adjust the trial schedule because of their entry into the case. Secretary of State Jon Husted and Attorney General Mike DeWine are listed as defendants in the lawsuit.

Attorneys for the state did object, however, to the request to amend the lawsuit’s claims, accusing the plaintiffs of “forum-shopping” and saying the change could create uncertainty for voters and election officials ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

The court has set an expedited schedule and a trial is set for the week of Nov. 16, while the separate lawsuit on the issues “has barely begun,” the state’s attorneys said in court documents. “Such a delay could make any changes in election procedure impossible to implement before the primary.”

The suit seeks relief from voting rules and laws that survived a settlement agreement struck in April between Husted and the NAACP and other groups in an early voting dispute.

Plaintiffs are challenging the elimination of a week of early voting in which Ohioans could also register to vote. And they have asked the judge to block a uniform voting schedule set by Husted and return an older arrangement that allowed counties to set their own hours. The suit says the changes effectively leave voters in more populous counties - many of them black - with fewer opportunities to vote.

Without such relief, it says, the voting rights of thousands of Ohio residents would be “wrongfully burdened, abridged, and/or denied.”

Husted, the state’s Republican elections chief, has called the case politically motivated and contends Ohio’s voting system is fair and easy for residents to cast a ballot.

Among other provisions challenged in the suit are:

- A rule limiting each county to a single early-voting location regardless of population.

- Reductions in the number of electronic voting machines in counties where they’re the primary device.

- A policy excluding “inactive” voters from receiving unsolicited, absentee ballot applications.

The complaint says all the changes “were designed to and will disproportionately burden specific populations, in particular African-Americans, Latinos, and young people - each of which are, not coincidentally, core Democratic constituencies.”

Husted has said all voters are treated fairly and equally, and Ohioans have 28 days to cast a ballot by mail or in person - more generous than other states.

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