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Ohio Early Voting Law Hangs in the Balance Following Judge’s Order

Ohio legislators have joined the state in appealing a federal court ruling ordering the state to restore early voting.

Last Thursday, federal judge U.S. Southern District Court Judge Peter C. Economus ordered Secretary of State Jon Husted to reinstate early voting hours on evenings and for six early voting days that were previously eliminated, reports The Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Though the legislature eliminated some early voting days and trimmed evening hours, early voting was set to begin on October 7. If the ruling is upheld, they will start September 30.

The ruling cited studies which say the reduction in early voting, passed by the GOP-controlled legislature in February, disproportionately impacts minority and low-income voters.

The ruling cited a study of early voting in Cuyahoga County — the greater Cleveland area — in 2008 that found that African-American voters were more than 26 times more likely to have cast ballots during the early voting period than white voters.

“Despite accounting for a mere 28.6 percent of the estimated overall vote, African-American voters cast an estimated 77.9 percent of all” early votes in the county that year, the ruling said.

A second study cited by Judge Economus found that early voters who were white, African-American or Latino had lower incomes than those who cast ballots on Election Day or by mail.

The American Civil Liberties Union brought the lawsuit on behalf of the Ohio Chapter of the NAACP and the Ohio League of Women Voters.

“This ruling means that thousands of voters who have needed these particular early voting opportunities will continue to have that right,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, in an interview with the New York Times.

Secretary of State Husted and the legislature are both fighting back.

On the day of the ruling, Husted said he would appeal on the basis that the ruling would allow each county to have different hours for early voting. The ruling also said Husted cannot interfere with counties who want to set additional early voting beyond what he schedules.

“We can’t simultaneously treat people the same and differently,” Husted said. “Today’s ruling kicks the door open to having different rules for voting in each of Ohio’s 88 counties, which is not fair and uniform and was not even acceptable to this court or the plaintiffs previously.”

A ruling by Judge Economus just before the 2012 election specifically stated that the Secretary of State “shall be responsible for setting business hours for such voting to preserve the right of all Ohio voters to cast his or her vote, with said hours to be uniform throughout the state and suitable to the needs of the particular election in question.”

On Monday, Economus said the legislature can join the state in its appeal.

In their motion, attorneys for state lawmakers said they must be allowed to “defend this important legislation on appeal and to protect its unique constitutional right and duty to prescribe the ‘times, places, and manner of holding elections.'”

With the election less than two months away, the state is asking for an expedited appeals process. Though early voting hours are up in the air, voters can vote absentee by mail or in person.

Josh Kaib

Josh Kaib is the Assistant Editor of Watchdog Wire. Twitter: @joshkaib

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