A federal judge ordered the battleground state of Ohio to open its polling places three days before the Nov. 6 election, giving a victory to the Obama campaign and marking the sixth ruling in recent weeks to block or void new voting rules set by Republican-dominated state legislatures. Friday’s decision restores early voting on the final weekend and Monday before election day, a time when more than 93,000 Ohio voters cast ballots in 2008. Last week, a three-judge court restored weekend early voting in parts of Florida that are subject to the Voting Rights Act. And on Wednesday, another Florida judge voided part of a state law that would have prevented groups such as the League of Women Voters from registering new voters. A Texas law was dealt two setbacks earlier this week when federal judges in Washington struck down a strict new photo identification requirement and threw out election districts that undercut the voting power of Latinos and blacks. Voting-rights advocates hailed what they saw as a rebuke to those who would curb an essential right.
“It shows judges take very seriously the right to vote as fundamental in a democracy. And when politicians manipulate the rules for political purposes, their rules are not entitled to the normal deference,” said Penda Hair, a veteran civil rights lawyer for the Advancement Project.
While the November campaigns unfold in public and on the airwaves, teams of election lawyers and civil rights advocates have been fighting in the courts over new rules for casting ballots and counting votes. The Republican surge in the 2010 election put the GOP in control in states including Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas. And despite fierce opposition from Democrats, their lawmakers adopted a set of changes to election laws. Many of the changes seemed to target voters who were likely to lean toward Democrats.