By Kim Palmer
CLEVELAND (Reuters) - Two Democratic officials in Ohio, a key battleground state and huge electoral prize in the November 6 presidential election, may be fired for trying to extend early voting hours to weekends in defiance of a state ban, officials said on Monday.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, issued a directive last week making the hours for early in-person voting by absentee ballot consistent throughout the state, where voting rules are a hot-button issue.
Voters will be able to cast absentee ballots from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays for the first three weeks of early voting beginning October 2 and until 7 p.m. on weekdays for the final two weeks before the election.
But two Democrats on the Montgomery County elections board, an area which includes Democratic-leaning Dayton, declined to implement the directive and voted to allow weekend voting after it was issued, Husted said in a statement on Monday.
Husted suspended the officials on Friday and sought their dismissal at a hearing on Monday. Jon Allison, an attorney and former chief of staff to former Republican Governor Bob Taft, is expected to recommend whether to fire the officials this week.
"While they are free to disagree with my decision, they are not free to disobey the law," Husted said in the statement.
Democrats said that Husted's directive did not specifically prohibit additional weekend hours, according to Jerid Kurtz, spokesman for the Ohio Democratic Party.
"It's abundantly clear that Republicans are prepared to do whatever they need to do in order to game this election in their favor, including suppressing voters across Ohio," Ohio Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern said.
Ohio election boards always have two Democratic and two Republican members, and the secretary of state serves as the tie-breaking vote.
Democrats said Husted has been trying to restrict voting in Democratic-leaning counties. Prior to his directive last week, some Democratic-leaning counties were not permitted extra hours while some Republican-leaning counties were. Extended voting is thought to favor Democrats in Ohio.
Husted said he was committed to making voting "uniform, easy, fair and secure."
Also in Ohio, lawyers for President Barack Obama's re-election campaign have asked a federal judge to restore early voting rights for the final days before the election to all registered voters in the state. A ruling is pending.
(Reporting By Kim Palmer; Editing by Mary Wisniewski, Cynthia Johnston and Paul Simao)