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Oct 5, 2012 4:37 PM by AP

Early voting reinstated but not required in Ohio

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - A federal appeals court on Friday reinstated in-person early voting in the swing state of Ohio on the final three days before Election Day, returning discretion to local boards of elections.

The ruling by the three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati came in a case targeting a state law that ends early voting for most residents on the Friday evening before a Tuesday election. The law makes an exception for military personnel and Ohio voters living overseas.

President Barack Obama's campaign and Democrats sued Ohio's Secretary of State Jon Husted and Attorney General Mike DeWine, both Republicans, over the legality of the law. They argued that everyone should have a chance to vote on those days.

Husted said his office was still reviewing the 6th Circuit's decision, and that no action would be taken on Friday or this weekend.

Ohio is among 34 states, plus the District of Columbia, where people can vote early without giving any reason.

The Democrats who sued said a series of legislative changes by state lawmakers had arbitrarily eliminated the opportunity for most Ohio residents to vote in person on the three final days before the Nov. 6 election, while giving military or overseas voters the chance to do so.

Attorneys for the state have said many laws already grant military personnel special voting accommodations, such as requirements for states to send them absentee ballots 45 days before the election. And they contend local boards also need those three days to prepare for the election.

U.S. District Judge Peter Economus in Columbus had ruled that voters' right to cast ballots in person on those three final days outweighs the state's reasons for limiting that opportunity. The judge issued a preliminary injunction on Aug. 31, concluding that the state's law was unconstitutional in changing the in-person early voting deadline and that the state was wrongly valuing certain votes above others.

Economus had said he expected Husted to direct all county elections boards to maintain a specific, consistent schedule on those three days.

The appeals court affirmed the lower court's ruling on Friday, but said it didn't interpret the judge's order as mandating early voting hours during the final days.

The appeals court said that because the state law is unconstitutional - it prohibits non-military voters from voting during this period - the state can't prevent those voters from participating in early voting. "But the State is not affirmatively required to order the boards to be open for early voting," Judge Eric L. Clay wrote in the opinion.

Clay said local boards of elections would have the discretion to allow all Ohio voters to vote during Saturday, Nov. 3; Sunday, Nov. 4; and Monday, Nov. 5.

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