"This ruling will safeguard the vote for thousands of Ohioans during the midterm election," said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project. "If these cuts had been allowed to remain in place, many voters would have lost a critical opportunity to participate in our democratic process this November. This is a huge victory for Ohio voters and for all those who believe in protecting the integrity of our elections."
Today's ruling restores the first week of early voting, often referred to as "Golden Week," in which voters are able to register and cast a ballot on the same day. It also restores evening early voting, as well as multiple Sundays.
The ruling includes a temporary injunction on the Republican-enacted state law and on additional new restrictions on voting hours implemented by its Republican Sec. of State John Husted, finding the regulations are in violation of both the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment, as well as Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act which bars racially discriminatory voting laws in all 50 states.
It's true. This has been going on for years. State Republicans, whether in the form of the legislature or their Republican Sec. of State in Ohio, keep attempting to make it harder to vote, and the federal court keeps ruling those attempts to be in violation of federal law. It has happened over and over again over the past several years.
Berman notes, in regards to today's ruling, that "In 2012, 157,000 Ohioans cast ballots during early voting hours eliminated by the Ohio GOP" and that African-American voters in the state "voted early in person at a rate over twenty times greater than white voters," according to the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights.
The expansion of early voting in Ohio was implemented following the disastrous 2004 elections there when many voters --- largely in minority areas --- were forced to wait for 6 hours or more to cast a vote under restrictions implemented by then partisan Sec. of State and co-chair of Bush/Cheney '04 Inc., J. Kenneth Blackwell. The last ballot cast in the Buckeye State that year, when the state's electoral votes would determine the Presidency, was around 2am on Wednesday morning at Kenyon College, where some students had waited on line as much as 10 hours to vote.
The new GOP restrictions cut many of the additional voting opportunities instituted in 2005, which had otherwise led to a fairly smooth election under Democratic Sec. of State Jennifer Brunner in 2008, as she described to us during an exclusive interview in 2012.
Early Absentee voting numbers had doubled between 2004 and 2008 after the expansion of voting hours, as a quick glance at the numbers starkly demonstrates...
But after Brunner left office, the Republican state legislature and Governor attempted to remove the "Golden Week" registration and same-day early voting period, while OH's new Republican Sec. of State John Husted more recently removed the final Sunday before Election Day for Early Voting, citing the need for "uniformity" in voting regulations across the state. That final Sunday before Election Day had become known as "Souls to the Polls" Day, when many African-American churches encouraged voters to head to the polls following afternoon services.
Brunner told us in 2012 that the new restrictions being attempted by the GOP at the time --- and overturned by the same federal judge before that election --- were "clearly aimed at 'Souls to the Polls'".
While Dale Ho, Director of ACLU's Voting Rights Project describes today's ruling as a "huge victory for Ohio voters and for all those who believe in protecting the integrity of our elections," MSNBC.com's Zach Roth notes that "an appeal is likely" in the case.
The ruling in Ohio is the latest case to test the limits of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act following the U.S. Supreme Court's gutting of Section 5 last year. That provision of the nearly 50-year old VRA had required that certain jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination at the polls demonstrate new voting regulations would not discriminate against minorities. Under Section 2, the burden is shifted to the plaintiffs to prove such laws are racially discriminatory.
"This is the first time a court has struck down limits on early voting under Section 2 of the VRA," writes Berman. "A Bush-appointed judge recently denied a preliminary injunction to block North Carolina’s cuts to early voting and the elimination of same-day registration, a lawsuit similar to the one in Ohio. A Wisconsin judged blocked the state’s voter ID law under Section 2, while a similar trial is currently underway in Texas."
"This is the third time that [Judge Peter] Economus has ruled against Husted and for voting rights advocates," Roth reports. "In June, he ordered the secretary of state to restore the last three days of early voting. And he did the same thing in the run-up to the 2012 election, after Husted had tried to cut those days for all voters except members of the military."
(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)