Voting Rights Round-Up

Here's the latest information from Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.

Posted: 10/18/2012 03:00 AM EDT

With less than three weeks to go before Election Day, the fight against efforts to disenfranchise voters continues. Still, there have been some victories.

The Ohio Supreme Court this week ruled that all of the state's voters can participate in the early voting period in the final three days before Nov. 6, an option that previously was available only to military families and overseas voters.

But in Pennsylvania, voters can't seem to win for losing. A utility company, thinking it was doing a public service, printed and mailed a newsletter that included information about the commonwealth's voter ID law. Unfortunately, it was suspended after more than 1 million households received the mailings.

Here's what else is happening on that front.

Ohio: The Ohio Justice and Policy Center has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of residents who might be arrested the weekend before Election Day and not released until after the time to vote has passed.

They are arguing that "those arrested after the deadline for requesting absentee ballots have no way to vote" and that it would disproportionately impact Black voters. According to state law, pretrial detainees have until noon the Saturday before the election to request absentee ballots, but anyone arrested Friday evening will not have that opportunity, the lawsuit states.

People hospitalized during a similar timeframe can deliver applications for absentee ballots by 3 p.m.

"Jailed voters should be treated just like those who are hospitalized due to medical emergencies," said David Singleton, executive director of the center.

Pennsylvania: Even though Pennsylvania's controversial voter ID law will not be implemented on Nov. 6, voters could still face problems. PECO, the state's largest utility company, has sent inaccurate voter ID information to 1.3 million customers in seven counties. A newsletter it mailed tells voters that they will have to present a valid photo ID to vote. The company began printing them in September, before the law was suspended on Oct. 2. Residents who call PECO to question the information will be directed to the Department of State's website.

Meanwhile, the attorneys who successfully sued to block the voter ID law say the state needs to work a lot harder to inform voters that they won't need photo IDs.

Ben Geffen, an attorney with the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, told newsworks.com that "if the state doesn't act swiftly, it risks discouraging people without photo IDs from going to the polls."

Tennessee: Early voting has begun in Tennessee, but 390,000 registered voters may not be able to cast ballots between now and Nov. 6. Opponents of the state's law requiring a state-sanctioned photo ID headed to court Oct. 18.

Civil rights attorney George Barrett is hoping for an appeal to a state court decision upholding the law. His argument is that the law is "unconstitutional and an impediment on the right to vote," The Tennessean reports. The state's constitution allows only age and residency restrictions to vote and states "there shall be no other qualification."

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(Photo: Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)

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