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Federal Judge Refuses To Halt Ohio's Extended Primary Election

A sign is taped to a door leading into a polling location at the Messiah Lutheran Church, Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in Lyndhurst, Ohio.
Tony Dejak
Associated Press
A sign is taped to a door leading into a polling location at the Messiah Lutheran Church, Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in Lyndhurst, Ohio.

A federal judge on Friday refused to halt the new primary election process unanimously approved by the Ohio General Assembly.

A coalition of voting rights groups, including the League of Women Voters and the ACLU of Ohio, sued the state in federal court Monday. They argued the new mostly-absentee system doesn’t give voters enough time to request and then return ballots by the April 28 deadline set by legislators.

Their case also argued that by refusing to re-open voter registration, the procedures violate federal law, which sets the registration cutoff as no earlier than 30 days before an election.

Judge Michael Watson’s ruling Friday turned down the groups’ request for a temporary restraining order. He agreed with the state’s assertion that the new deadline for receiving ballots is an extension of an existing election—not a new one—and so the 30 day cutoff wouldn’t apply.

Ohio Voting Guide: What To Know About The 2020 Election

Watson also waved off the argument that the short timeline would effectively disenfranchise Ohio voters. His opinion notes the process for requesting a ballot is at most a “modest burden."

"The Constitution does not require the best plan, just a lawful one," Watson wrote. "As is apparent from the briefing in this lawsuit, every group has a different idea of what the best plan would be. But the Court will not declare the Ohio Legislature's unanimous bill to be unconstitutional simply because other options may have been better."

In a statement the ACLU of Ohio expressed disappointment at the decision noting, "if the April 28 primary process prevents people from voting it will have denied its citizens' fundamental rights. And the state will hear from us."

To participate in Ohio's primary, residents must request an absentee ballot by April 25. Voters can download a ballot request formand print it, or call the board of electionsand have one sent to their home.

Voters must then fill out the request form, mail it to their local board, receive the ballot in the mail, fill it out and mail it back to the board. That may require as many as four trips through the mail. Ballots must be postmarked by April 27 to be counted.

Limited in-person voting will be allowed April 28 for Ohioans with disabilities.

Nick Evans was a reporter at WOSU's 89.7 NPR News. He spent four years in Tallahassee, Florida covering state government before joining the team at WOSU.