COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio voters will have a chance next year to decide the fate of a new election law that shortens the early voting period in the key presidential battleground state.
The state's top election chief said Friday that the law's opponents, who include Democrats and President Barack Obama's re-election campaign, have met the necessary requirements to get a repeal question before voters on Election Day in November 2012.
The ruling from Secretary of State Jon Husted sets up the state's next big ballot battle during a presidential election year.
The group Fair Elections Ohio had previously fallen more than 9,500 signatures short of the roughly 231,000 that it needed for the referendum. The coalition of Democrats and others continued to circulate petitions, and gathered more than 166,000 additional signatures.
Elections officials reviewed the extra signatures the group handed in on Nov. 22 to see if they met the state's referendum requirements. Husted said Friday that they had collected 307,358 valid signatures.
The law has been on temporary hold since late September, when Fair Elections Ohio submitted its first batch of signatures.
Opponents contend the elections overhaul will lead to longer lines and make it difficult for working people to cast a ballot.
Democrats, however, also are trying to protect a method of voting they see as a boon for their party. An extended voting period is perceived as benefiting them because it increases opportunities for Hispanics, blacks, new citizens and poor people — harder to reach for an Election Day turnout — to vote.
About 30 percent of the state's total vote — or roughly 1.7 million ballots — came in ahead of Election Day in 2008.
Ohio is one of 32 states that allow voters to cast an early ballot by mail or in person without an excuse.
Husted has argued that each of the state's 88 counties should have the same early voting hours and be open on the same days. He and his fellow Republicans say it's unfair that a voter in one county can cast an early ballot on a day when a voter in a neighboring county cannot.
Ohio's election measure cleared the GOP-controlled state Legislature in late June with no Democratic support.
Among other changes, the overhaul shortens the in-person early voting window from 35 days before Election Day to 17 days and the period for absentee voting by mail from 35 days to 21. The cuts effectively eliminate a five-day period during which new voters could both register and cast a ballot on the same day. People would be allowed to vote in person on Saturday until noon, and not on Sundays or the three days before Election Day.