Supreme Court allows early voting in Ohio

The Supreme Court said Tuesday that early voting can proceed in Ohio — a major victory for President Obama.

In a one-sentence order with no explanation, the court rejected Ohio Republicans' efforts to block early voting three days before Election Day. The court left in place a lower court's ruling that said early voting had to be available to all Ohioans — not just military personnel.

Democrats initiated the legal battle over Ohio's early voting policy after state officials decided to eliminate three days of early voting that were offered in 2008. Minorities, who traditionally favor Democrats, often take advantage of early voting.

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Roughly 105,000 Ohioans voted in person in the three days before the 2008 election, according to a federal appeals court ruling earlier this month. Compared to Election-Day voters, they were more likely to be black, female, old, low-income and less educated.

Although Democrats are hoping to benefit from early balloting nationwide, the legal victory in Ohio is especially important. Obama's chances of reelection diminish greatly if he loses Ohio, and his campaign has poured time and money into the state as its best defense against GOP challenger Mitt Romney.

The Obama campaign praised the court's decision.

“This action from the highest court in the land marks the end of the road in our fight to ensure open voting this year for all Ohioans, including military, veterans, and overseas voters," campaign General Counsel Bob Bauer said in a statement. "We now turn our full attention to educating Ohio voters on when and how they can vote along with presenting the clear choice they face when selecting their next President.”

Ohio began offering in-person early voting after the 2004 election, when long lines left some voters waiting until the early morning to cast their ballots. But in 2011, Republican lawmakers in the state imposed new limits that eliminated in-person early voting on the Saturday, Sunday and Monday before Election Day. Only military personnel would be able to vote during those three days.

The Obama campaign and Ohio Democrats sued, saying the state couldn't set different rules for military and non-military voters and should restore in-person voting statewide. Democrats won the first round of their challenge and also prevailed in a federal appeals court earlier this month.

Asking the Supreme Court to stop those decisions from taking effect was the last chance for Ohio Republicans. Because the high court declined to get involved, the state will now have to offer in-person voting during the three days before Election Day.

— This story was last updated at 2:38 p.m.