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Ohio asks Supreme Court to curtail early voting in state

By Jo Ingles

COLUMBUS, Ohio (Reuters) - Ohio's top election official asked the Supreme Court on Tuesday to block a federal court ruling that allows in-person, early voting in the state in the final three days before the November 6 general election.

The battleground state, which is critical to the Election Day hopes of both President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, began early, in-person voting last Tuesday but planned to cut it off on the Friday before November 6 except for members of the military.

Democrats backed the continuation of early voting right up to the eve of Election Day. Republicans opposed the measure, saying a cutoff was needed to reduce fraud at the ballot box.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, said last week's ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which reinstated early, in-person voting in the final three days before November 6, represented an unprecedented intrusion by federal judges into state elections that was illegal and impractical.

"The court is asking that all voters must be treated the same way under Ohio law, but also grants Ohio's 88 elections boards the authority to establish 88 different sets of rules," Husted said.

The appeals court's decision did not require polls to be open on those days, leaving it up to the discretion of the state's 88 individual county election boards.

President Barack Obama's campaign, which was expected to benefit from the appeals court ruling, criticized Husted's request that the high court intervene.

"It is a shame that the secretary would not have committed his office's energy instead to implementing the outstanding court orders and administering the orderly and effective early voting process that has served Ohio voters so well since 2005," Bob Bauer, the Obama campaign's general counsel, said in a statement.

Republicans in the state welcomed Husted's move. Matt Borges, executive director of the Ohio Republican Party, asked why other states can offer fewer voting opportunities or more stringent rules but "when it comes to Ohio, the Obama campaign wants to find remedies in the courts."

Separately on Tuesday, Husted announced that the 88 election boards had received more than 1.1 million requests to vote by mail so far, including more than 13,000 requests for military and overseas ballots.

In addition, he said that more than 59,000 voters have already cast ballots early at their local board of elections or designated absentee voting centers.

In 2008, 1.74 million Ohio voters cast ballots either in person or by mail by Election Day, Matt McClellan, Husted's press secretary, told Reuters.

(Editing by James B. Kelleher, Greg McCune and Philip Barbara)

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