Federal Judge Upholds Early Voting in Ohio

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - The Ohio Supreme Court and a federal judge on Monday upheld a weeklong period in which new voters can register and cast an absentee ballot on the same day in Ohio.

Another federal court decision was expected later in the day over the early voting window, which begins Tuesday and has become a partisan battle in a swing state where President Bush narrowly clinched re-election in 2004.

In a 4-3 decision, the Ohio Supreme Court said Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner was correct in ruling that voters don't need to be registered for at least 30 days before receiving an absentee ballot.

Brunner, a Democrat, has been criticized by Republicans who have said she interpreted the same-day registration and voting window to benefit her own party.

Although both Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's campaign and the Republican National Committee have urged supporters in Ohio to use the early voting, Republican-backed lawsuits were filed against it.

Earlier Monday, U.S. District Judge James Gwin in Cleveland issued a temporary restraining order forcing Madison County to follow Brunner's instructions. The county had said that on the advice of its county prosecutor it was not going to allow same-day voting during the six-day window that runs through Oct. 6.

The Ohio Supreme Court has six Republicans and one Democrat. Gwin was appointed to the bench by former President Bill Clinton.

In the day's last courtroom battle, the Ohio Republican Party has filed a statewide challenge in federal court in Columbus before a judge appointed by former President Ronald Reagan.

The ruling by the Ohio Supreme Court a was loss for two voters who had sued and were backed by the state GOP. Republicans argue that Ohio law requires voters to be registered for at least 30 days before they cast an absentee ballot and that the law doesn't allow same-day registration and voting.

But Brunner interpreted the law correctly, Gwin said in his ruling.

"We believed all along the law was very clear," said Carrie Davis, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, which brought the case against Madison County, west of Columbus.

The disputed voting window results from an overlap between Tuesday's beginning of absentee voting 35 days before Election Day, and the Oct. 6 end of voter registration.

"The Republicans' cynical 11th-hour ploy to disenfranchise Ohio voters has been soundly rejected in federal court," said Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern.

Ohio Republican Party spokesman John McClelland said the party was declining comment until all three court rulings were in.

Democrat Barack Obama's campaign has extensive plans to get college students around the state to register and vote during the window. Other groups, including the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, have plans to drive the homeless, low-income and minority voters to the polls during the window.

And despite the Republican legal action against the window, John McCain's campaign and the Republican National Committee have encouraged voters to prepare for it.

"You have a special opportunity to help elect John McCain, Sarah Palin and Republicans across the ballot," a page on the Republican National Committee's Web site says. "Use this tool to locate your nearest early voting center, where you can register and vote in person."

Republicans have said they were concerned that providing an absentee ballot to a voter before checking whether the registration was valid would open the door to voter fraud.

Brunner has instructed election officials to segregate the ballots cast by those who registered on the same day and verify the registration information before those ballots are counted on Nov. 4.