Federal Judge Sees Through Ohio's Bogus Arguments For Cutting Early Voting

While it may be technically possible for there to be a sufficiently good reason to cut early voting – one that isn't just a sorry excuse for voter suppression – we haven't seen it yet.

Yesterday a federal judge in Ohio agreed, ruling that the state's gratuitous cuts to early voting must be restored for the upcoming midterm elections, precisely because all of Ohio politicians' TV-made talking points about fraud, cost, or "uniformity" – the same set of talking points being used by politicians around the country – were "relatively hollow" and "not necessarily supported by logic." When waves of political noise crash against the rocky shores of logic, logic usually wins out.

As the court recognized, after disastrously long lines in 2004 disenfranchised thousands of Ohio voters, the state created a 35-day early voting period, including a week in which it was possible to register and vote on the same day ("same-day registration"). Since then, hundreds of thousands of Ohioans have taken advantage of these opportunities because of the flexibility they allow. Lower-income voters have used them to cast votes on evenings and weekends, often because of difficulties taking unpaid time off of work to vote or arranging for childcare during the day. African-American churches have also seized on weekend voting, organizing transportation to the polls after Sunday services.

Ohio politicians did not like what they saw, and in early 2014, they slashed into this early voting period. But they did not simply reduce the number of early voting days – they went out of their way to target the early voting days and times that poor and African-American voters used the most: Sundays, evenings, and same-day registration.

As one politician put it, "I guess I really actually feel we shouldn't contort the voting process to accommodate the urban – read African-American – voter-turnout machine."

Because Ohio could not give any good reason for these cutbacks under the harsh light of judicial scrutiny, the federal court ruled that these cuts to early voting, in disproportionately targeting poor and African-American voters, violated both the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act.

The court also noted that when constitutionally unacceptable conditions – such as the widespread disenfranchisement of Ohio voters in 2004 – leads to the creation of methods of democratic participation upon which hundreds of thousands of its citizens (especially its most vulnerable citizens) come to rely, the state cannot suddenly eliminate that form of participation without a good reason.

That is why the howls that you hear from Ohio politicians and armchair commentators in response to this decision – emphasizing Ohio's still-large number of early voting days, suggesting that Ohio can never reduce its early voting period, and faux-worrying that this decision means that every single state is now constitutionally required to have X many days of early voting – can be ignored.

Taking away an existing right that thousands have depended on is worlds of difference from not providing a method of participation that no one in the state has ever used. And nothing suggests that Ohio can never reduce its early voting period – they just need to come up with a good reason before doing so.

As the court explained, "despite the expansiveness of Ohio's voting system, the weakness of the offered justifications render them essentially arbitrary action when viewed against the burdens they impose on groups of voters. Such action is prohibited by the Equal Protection Clause."

For Ohio voters, yesterday's ruling means that the opportunity to register and vote on the same day and the first week of early voting has been restored. Absentee and early in-person voting will begin on September 30 rather than October 7. There will be multiple Sundays – October 26 and November 2 – for early in-person voting. From October 20-31, there will also be weekday evening hours for early in-person voting, and counties that want additional early in-person voting hours will be allowed to offer it.

For all of us, this means that this judge saw cuts to early voting for what they are: an opportunity for politicians to choose their voters.

The battle, however, is not over yet. In North Carolina, a judge ruled that cuts to early voting could continue. But now we celebrate for the people of Ohio who will not have politicians getting in the way of their right to vote.

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Ohio voter

Like a popular song already stated - using different names - in 2008:

Kasich's not going to win, even if you take off all your clothes

Jeffrey Johnson

This IS good news (thank you, ACLU!), but not just for Ohio voters... it is a strong precedent for voting rights in all states.
Let's NEVER lose focus that the single most basic right in America is the right to vote. All the others fall apart if voting is threatened.

Anonymous

Early voting is nice but not having it is voter suppression??? I never voted early until this year yet managed to make every election since I was 21. Silly season!

Anonymous

When is a lawsuit such as this going to happen in Wisconsin and other states taken over by the Koch's Tea Baggers?

Anonymous

Thank you ACLU for your work in the Ohio Vote Suppression Laws.

Here in Austin Texas, we have been gerrymandered out of any chance to elect a congressman who shares our views. There should be three or four Austin-based congressman but the legislature split our area into five small triangular shaped districts that widen into broad swaths of farm and ranch land. Only a single congressman representing Austin actually lives here.

This discriminates against Austinites without regard to race; none of us have a voice.

Anything ACLU would do about this?

John Richard Fo...

Look USA government advanced from start of our countries Independence it is really new 238 years ,economy took a hit spoiled little brats USA ran from truth government almost shut down a few times yet ideas like gold sales and revenues is not all we live upon elections flow is important yet if a few voted politicians still hired make cuts in salaries and save us from terrorist attacks and ISIS is like a VIPER SNAKE PIT allies of USA and more countries ideas will attack ISIS and USA even gives to due foreign aid and USA spoilers say we can't afford ourselves "How can we give assets worth MILLIONS dollars to needy?"Ouch no go NASA and high spending G.W.Bush spent sooooo much on war and USA will rebound saved world in my opinion . Look at standards and achievements I support USA government if USA can survive in POST season after 238 years we made progress and can acheive more look at technology.Kudos KEEP UP THE HARD WORK Those of us who tried and are trying.

Anonymous

Hey if I can vote on time then lazy black people should do the same.

Anonymous

Why would a person need to vote early? I seriously cannot think of a single reason.

HawkAtreides

This kind of voter suppression is nigh synonymous with the Southern Strategy. Claim that you are creating some kind of "good" (or suppressing some kind of "ill"), with the intent of disproportionate negative impact against a certain part of the population, and defend your actions with the same abstraction you used to define them in the first place. The fact that the phrase "urban - read African-American" has shown up in a statement by someone involved in this tactic tells me that we're likely not long before it is again acceptable - possibly even advantageous - in certain political discourse to say what I will refer to as, for politeness' sake, "what Lee Atwater said you couldn't say by 1968".

HawkAtreides

#3 & #8: Yes, removing early voting days is, in fact, voter suppression. Many people literally cannot afford to take time away from work to vote, and with the laughably small number of polling places in some areas it can be an all-day (and then some!) affair. My own district recently (as in, between the 2012 election and now) dropped one of the larger and better-equipped polling places, leaving several hundred households (at least!) having to look to a much smaller and out-of-the-way location to be able to vote on Election Day. The fact that my district is a lower-income area is much more than a mere incidental fact.

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