By Kim Palmer
CLEVELAND (Reuters) - Two Ohio election officials fired for trying to extend voting in the final weekend before the November election in their county that includes Democratic-leaning Dayton, filed a federal lawsuit Monday seeking restoration to their former positions.
Dennis Lieberman and Tom Ritchie, both Democrats, contend Republican Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted unjustly fired them after they defied his statewide restriction and proposed that Montgomery County have extended voting hours.
They asked for a temporary restraining order to restore them to their county board of elections positions and to defer the naming of replacements until a hearing can be scheduled.
"Mr. Lieberman and Mr. Ritchie were fired for breaking election law," Husted spokesman Matt McClellan said. "They are free to say what they want, but not free to do what they want."
Ritchie and Lieberman contend in the lawsuit filed in federal court in Dayton that their firing was unconstitutional because the directive was "silent on the subject of weekend hours."
Ritchie said he and Lieberman followed the directive to set minimum early voting hours and were extending voting on the weekend during the same hours open during the 2012 Ohio primary and the 2008 presidential election.
"Dennis and I did nothing wrong," Ritchie said in a statement. "We knew that 11,000 Montgomery County residents voted during early weekend hours in 2008. The county has the money to pay for the extended hours. We were only trying to give people a fair chance to vote."
Ohio is a key battleground state in the November 6 presidential election and enacted bipartisan changes in 2005 after long lines had plagued polling stations during the election a year earlier. Early voting begins October 2.
Republicans pushed through legislation last year to roll back some of the reforms, cutting off early in-person balloting for the last three days before Election Day, with the exception of members of the armed forces.
Most of the changes were repealed after early voting backers threatened to put the issue to a referendum. Military members, who tend to vote Republican, continued to have the right to vote in-person the last three days before the election.
A federal judge in late August granted a preliminary injunction ordering that in-person voting be allowed during the last three days before the election. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has appealed the ruling to a federal appeals court.
(Editing by David Bailey and Lisa Shumaker)