By Kim Palmer
CLEVELAND (Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Wednesday cleared the way for voters in Ohio to begin casting in-person ballots as early as Tuesday, 35 days before the November midterm election.
A three-judge panel of the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Peter Economus earlier this month that reinstated early in-person voting hours on multiple Sundays and weekday evenings.
The ruling came after an appeal by state attorneys seeking uniform voting hours for all 88 counties argued that the increased cost and chance of fraud outweighed the benefit of extended voting periods.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, said he will appeal and ask for review of the decision from the full appellate court.
"Whether we vote 35 or 28 days, by mail or in person this November, elected officials and not federal judges should be making Ohio law," Husted said in a statement.
The case, originally brought by the Ohio branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and a number of African-American churches, sought to provide after-work voting hours and restore the so-called golden week, the period when residents can register and cast ballots on the same day.
Ohio established the early-voting period in 2005 in response to some voters in urban areas waiting up to 12 hours to vote in the 2004 general election. The early-voting period was rolled back in February when a bill passed by a majority-Republican legislature cut early voting to 28 days from 35.
In a 46-page decision, the judges agreed with civil rights groups that cutting the early-voting hours would suppress turnout by minorities and the poor.
"The fact that a practice or law eliminates voting opportunities that used to exist under prior law that African Americans disproportionately used is therefore relevant to an assessment of whether, under the current system, African Americans have an equal opportunity to participate in the political process as compared to other voters," the judges said.
(Reporting by Kim Palmer; Editing by Fiona Ortiz, Eric Beech and Sandra Maler)