In Ohio, early voting restrictions face legal test

NEWARK, OH - NOVEMBER 3: Four Licking County voters fill out their ballots at the end of a two-and-a-half hour wait to vote November 3, 2008 in downtown Newark, Ohio. Early voting sites across Ohio, a crucial swing state, have been swamped with voters.
Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images

(CBS News) In an indication of just how much both Republicans and Democrats have at stake in Ohio this fall, Democrats head to court today in an ongoing challenge with the state over early voting laws they say are designed to suppress Democratic turnout.

Wednesday's court challenge is the latest manifestation of a recent spate of Democratic protests over restrictions guiding how and when Ohioans can vote in advance of the presidential election, which they say could prevent thousands of people from getting to the polls.

According to a recent CBS News/New York Times/Quinnipiac poll, President Obama currently leads Mitt Romney in Ohio by six points, but both candidates are fiercely competing in the battleground state, which carries 18 electoral votes and is considered a must-win for any Republican hoping to win the presidency.

The Obama campaign, along with the DNC and the Ohio Democratic Party, announced last month that they were suing Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine in response to new laws, enacted in 2011, which curtail in-person early voting in the state for the three days prior to November's elections.

According to those laws, early voting begins in Ohio on October 2 and will continue through Friday, November 2. Military voters are able to vote through the following Monday, on November 5.

Why does early voting matter?

Democrats argue that early voting allows for increased voter participation, particularly as the election nears. In Ohio in 2008, they say, 93,000 votes - or nearly 30 percent of all votes in the state - were cast in the last three days of early voting. For comparison, former President George W. Bush beat his Democratic rival John Kerry in Ohio approximately 119,000 votes in 2004. Keeping early voting polls closed the weekend before Election Day, some worry, could depress turnout by a pivotal margin, particularly in a close election.