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File | Associated Press
In this Oct. 2 photo, voters stand in line outside the Hamilton County Board of Elections just before it opened for early voting in Cincinnati.

U.S. Supreme Court won't block early voting in Ohio

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Supreme Court sided with Democrats on Tuesday in refusing to block a decision over disputed early voting days in the battleground state of Ohio, giving President Barack Obama's campaign a victory three weeks before the election.

The court refused a request by the state's Republican elections chief and attorney general to get involved in a battle over early voting on the three days before Election Day.

Obama's campaign and Ohio Democrats sued the state officials over changes in state law that took away the three days of voting for most people but made exceptions for military personnel and Ohioans living overseas.

Democrats in their lawsuit cited a recent study saying nearly 105,000 people voted in the three days before the election in 2008. They argued everyone should have the chance to vote on those three days. And they said eliminating the opportunity for most Ohio residents to vote in person on those days, while giving military or overseas voters the chance to do so, leads to unequal treatment.

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

On Oct. 5, a federal appeals court reinstated voting on the weekend and Monday before the election and returned discretion to set hours on those days to local boards of elections.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court last week. He said it opened up the chance for Ohio's 88 county boards of elections to set different rules, while at the same time ordering that all voters be treated the same.

Before the changes to the Ohio law, local boards of elections set early voting hours on the three final days. And voting hours varied among the state's counties.

Husted had been accepting boards' recommendations for hours on the disputed days in the event his appeal wasn't successful.

Shortly after the high court's decision, he directed boards to be open on the Saturday, Sunday and Monday before the Nov. 6 election. He also set uniform hours.

Bob Bauer, general counsel for Obama for America, praised the Supreme Court decision.

"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," Bauer said in a statement.

Associated Press writer Mark Sherman in Washington contributed to this story.

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