Jon Husted faces another lawsuit over early voting, this one by Fair Elections Ohio. The group went to federal court last week, seeking a referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot concerning a controversial elections law, House Bill 194, which affected in-person absentee voting. In July, the Obama campaign filed a federal lawsuit against the secretary of state over early voting, set to begin Oct. 2.
Both are the remnants of a bitter partisan fight over H.B. 194. Fair Elections Ohio, a coalition that includes the president’s Ohio re-election campaign, gathered enough signatures to put the law up for a vote. Republicans, in control the legislature, repealed the bill, so Husted refused this month to send the measure to the Ohio Ballot Board.
All of which sounds pretty straightforward. The trouble is, Republican majorities in the legislature did not repeal cleanly H.B. 194. Instead, they maneuvered to preserve a key section that cut off early in-person voting the Friday before Election Day. That is the step the Obama team is challenging. It points to military and overseas voters casting early ballots in person right up to Election Day.
The Fair Elections Ohio lawsuit aims at a Husted directive setting uniform weekday hours for early voting — but no weekend hours. Fair Elections reasons that the directive has much the same effect as H.B. 194, which limited early voting to 10 days before Election Day and allowed weekend voting on just one Saturday morning.
What Fair Elections Ohio correctly argues is that voters, through a referendum, should have the final word, not Husted. They argue that Husted shouldn’t be permitted to keep alive H.B. 194 through his substantial narrowing of early voting.
A clean repeal of H.B. 194 would have reopened the possibility of longer early voting hours, including weekends. Matt McClellan, a Husted spokesman, notes that the Obama lawsuit argues for uniformity in early voting in the three days before Election Day, with Fair Elections seeking to restore authority to local boards to set their own hours. He says Democrats are “contradicting themselves.”
No less so than Republicans, who said they were repealing H.B. 194, but kept alive some of the bill’s bans on early voting, anyway.