COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against Ohio's elections chief over limits to when voters can cast an early ballot in the perennial battleground state.
Ohioans can vote early by casting an absentee ballot by mail or in person before Election Day without giving any reason. About 33 percent of those who voted in the 2012 presidential election cast absentee ballots.
The lawsuit filed in Columbus federal court claims that recent cuts to when early voting can take place will make it difficult for tens of thousands of residents to vote and will unfairly affect black voters, who the groups say are more likely to use weekend and evening hours to vote early in elections.
Freda Levenson, managing attorney for the ACLU of Ohio, told reporters at a press conference that voting should be designed for the convenience of voters and not a strategy piece for politicians.
"The cuts that we're challenging in this lawsuit eliminated hours that were disproportionately used by lower-income voters, by African American voters, by single parents, by working voters," Levenson said. "So these were not across-the-board cuts. These were cuts that had disproportionate impact on certain classes of voters."
Secretary of State Jon Husted and his fellow Republicans who lead the Legislature have stressed that residents still have plenty of time to vote. They argue the changes help achieve fairness and consistency across the state's 88 counties and benefit boards of elections.
Local boards of elections previously set early voting hours, creating a patchwork of times across the state. Without a directive from Husted, they would be free to set their own hours.
Husted spokesman Matt McClellan said voting in Ohio is easy, and opponents should instead sue states with no early voting hours.
"It's ironic that Secretary Husted is being sued for treating all voters equally and for supporting a bipartisan voting schedule that gives Ohioans an entire month to cast ballots," McClellan said in a written statement.
The fall early voting schedule set by Husted includes two Saturdays, but no Sundays or evening hours.
Several predominantly black churches and the Ohio chapters of the League of Women Voters and the NAACP have joined the ACLU in challenging Husted's directive on early voting hours.
Husted has defended the hours as a bipartisan solution, because they were proposed by an association of Republican and Democrat county elections officials.