Ohio asks US Supreme Court to delay federal judge's order that expands early voting this fall

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FILE - In this Nov. 5, 2012, file photo, voters wait in line outside the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections in Cleveland on the final day of early voting. A federal appeals court on Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014, upheld an order from an Ohio judge that expands the swing state's voting schedule this fall. The ruling moved the start of early voting to Sept. 30 instead of Oct. 7. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan, File)


COLUMBUS, Ohio — Attorneys for Ohio asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday to delay a federal judge's order that expands the swing state's early voting schedule this fall.

The request comes a day after a three-judge panel of a federal appeals court upheld the order that allows early ballots to be cast next week.

In a Sept. 4 decision, U.S. District Judge Peter Economus temporarily blocked an Ohio law trimming early voting and ordered Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted to set additional times that included evening hours. The ruling moved the start of early voting to Tuesday instead of Oct. 7.

Ohioans can vote absentee by mail or in person.

The state is appealing the panel's decision and has asked the full 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati to grant a rehearing.

State Solicitor Eric Murphy told the Supreme Court in Thursday's court filing that the judge's order was wrong and inequitable in making the changes so late.

"Ohio respectfully asks that the federal courts permit it to implement the early-voting schedule its democratically elected representatives chose and for which its voters and elections officials have prepared for over six months," Murphy wrote.

The appeals panel concluded in a 3-0 decision on Wednesday that none of the interests put forward by Ohio sufficiently justified the burden found to be placed on certain voters by two election-related measures.

One is a directive from Husted that established uniform early voting times and restricted weekend and evening hours. Another is a GOP-backed state law that eliminates so-called golden week, when people could both register to vote and cast ballots. Without those days, early voting would typically start 28 or 29 days before Election Day instead of the prior 35-day window.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio filed the lawsuit on behalf of several black churches and the state's chapters of the NAACP and the League of Women Voters.

The plaintiffs claimed that the new rules would make it difficult for residents to vote and disproportionately affect low-income and black voters, who, the groups say, are more likely to use the weekend and evening hours to vote early in elections. The black churches in the lawsuit say their parishioners have come to rely on rides they provide to the polls after Sunday services to vote early.

The ACLU's attorneys on Thursday said a review by the full appellate court would disrupt the fall election processes.

"The district court did not abuse its discretion in ensuring that these election processes remain in place temporarily while the parties continue to develop the factual record before the district court," wrote Freda Levenson, of the ACLU of Ohio, in a court filing.

Aaron Ockerman, the executive director of the Ohio Association of Election Officials, said local boards are prepared for the start of early voting even as the date remains in flux.

"Neither the ruling nor the appeal is going to have any impact on our ability to serve voters," Ockerman said. "We're ready for whatever the court tells us to do."

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