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Court Action Keeps Dream of Early Voting Alive in Ohio, Despite Unrelenting GOP

Jon Husted

Jon Husted

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A federal court has issued a preliminary injunction against cuts to the early voting period in the state of Ohio. The changes violate both the equal protection clause of the fourteenth amendment and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), according to the decision.  The state must now restore the so-called “golden week” before the upcoming midterm elections.  The lawsuit was brought forward by the ACLU and the NAACP.  

District Court Judge Peter Economus wrote:

“African Americans in Ohio are more likely than other groups to utilize [early] voting in general and to rely on evening and Sunday voting hours.  As a consequence, the early voting cuts “result in fewer voting opportunities for African Americans.”

The changes in question were made last year by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted and sought to eliminate a period of one week during which citizens could register and vote on the same day.  Husted also issued directives to cut weekend and night voting during the early, as well as voting on the two days immediately preceding the election.  The cuts were particularly alarming considering nearly 10 percent of voters took advantage of these early voting opportunities during the 2012 election.  

Husted is viewed as deeply partisan and engaged in suppression of the Democratic vote. Ari Berman provides back story in a The Nation piece he wrote in August of 2012:

In 2004, Ohio had the longest lines in the country on Election Day, with some voters—particularly in large urban areas—waiting as long as seven hours to vote. A DNC survey estimated that 174,000 Ohioans—3 percent of the state’s electorate—left without voting. George W. Bush won the state by just 118,000 votes.

In response to the long lines, Ohio adopted thirty-five days of early voting in 2008, including on nights and weekends. But following the large Democratic turnout in 2008, Ohio Republicans drastically curtailed early voting in 2012 from thirty-five to eleven days, with no voting on the Sunday before the election, when African-American churches historically rally their congregants to go to the polls. Voting rights activists subsequently gathered enough signatures to block the new voting restrictions and force a referendum on Election Day. In reaction, Ohio Republicans repealed their own bill in the state legislature, but kept a ban on early voting three days before Election Day (when 98,000 Ohioans voted in 2008), adding an exception for active duty members of the military, who tend to lean Republican.

These cuts disproportionately impacted black voters, who made up a majority of early voters in large urban areas like Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County and Dayton’s Montgomery County in 2008. Ohio Republicans brazenly tried to cut early voting hours in Democratic countries while expanding them in Republican ones. GOP leaders admitted the cuts in Democratic counties were motivated by racial politics. “I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban—read African-American—voter-turnout machine,” said Doug Preisse, the GOP chair in Columbus’s Franklin County.

Similar attempts by Husted and the Ohio GOP were beaten back through lawsuits from the Obama campaign. Since 2012 the GOP has resumed its anti-democracy antics, fighting for statewide voter ID laws. Nearly 900,000 Ohioans would not be able to vote if Voter ID became a reality, including one in four African-Americans.  

The temporary injunction is a victory for voting rights advocates and the citizens of Ohio but it is unlikely to signal an end to right-wing anti-voting activism.  


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