Republican efforts to suppress early voting in Ohio were defeated Tuesday as the U.S. Supreme Court upheld lower court rulings that a law banning county election boards from letting voters cast ballots on the final three days before the Nov. 6 election was unconstitutional.
GOP Secretary of State Jon Husted, who led the vote suppression effort, immediately complied with the ruling and set hours for early voting for Nov. 3-5.
"I'm ecstatic," said Eben "Sandy" McNair, one of two Democrats on the four-member Cuyahoga County Board of Elections. "The secretary set very reasonable hours."
McNair said he was still concerned that Husted had reversed the policy in place in 2008 when weekend voting occurred the three weekends prior to the election. "He's jamming three weekends into one," but he said, "This is a big victory."
"Even the Republican-dominated U.S. Supreme Court felt Husted was over reaching," said state Rep. Mike Foley.
"I applaud the ruling," said Bishop Tony Minor, executive director of United Pastors in Mission, a coalition of African American ministers who have been using church vans to bring voters to the board since early voting began Oct. 2.
"We are prepared to take full advantage of this ruling and continue our efforts," Minor said. "Husted was extremely short sighted and misguided. We need evening and weekend voting all month. It will make it easier on the election staff. We don't want 10,000 people trying to vote on that last Sunday."
Early voting has set record levels throughout Ohio due in large measure to efforts by churches, unions, community groups and the Obama campaign.
This was underscored Monday by First Lady Michelle Obama when she told an enthusiastic crowd of 2,000 at a rally in Cleveland that she had mailed her ballot to her election board that morning.
"I'm feeling pretty fired up and ready to go" she said, "because, let me tell you what I did, I cast my ballot early for Barack Obama today. It felt so good. That means we are one vote closer to re-electing my husband and moving this country forward for four more years."
Urging all supporters to vote early, she announced the president was planning to go to Chicago in person and vote early.
The Obama campaign has promoted early voting as a way to reduce the load on volunteers in the final Get Out The Vote push, as well as to save time, effort and funds used for mailings and phone banks. Mail ballots allow voters the time to study, research and decide their choices for the entire ballot that also includes lesser offices and referendum issues.
It also avoids potential problems at the polls, especially since a Tea Party operation, "True the Vote," has threatened to challenge voters in heavily Democratic precincts in battleground states.
Early voting is already underway in at least 40 states and is expected to exceed the one in three who voted before Election Day in 2008.
According to a national Reuters/Ipsos poll released Sunday seven percent have already voted and, among those, Obama leads his GOP challenger Mitt Romney 59-31%.
Photos: Ohioans line up to see First Lady Michelle Obama speak at an Oct. 2 rally in Cincinnati. (OFA/Sara Mays/CC)