Future of Ohio's Early Voting Period Uncertain After Supreme Court Stay

Clevelanders cast votes at a polling place in the city's Central neighborhood May 2014. (Nick Castele / ideastream)
Clevelanders cast votes at a polling place in the city's Central neighborhood May 2014. (Nick Castele / ideastream)
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In recent years, Ohio has had a so-called “golden week” when voters could both register and cast ballots at the same time. Ohio voters also had weekend voting hours on the Saturdays and Sundays leading up to Election Day.

But a last-minute injunction by the U.S. Supreme Court has changed that. No more golden week. And the weekend voting days and hours are limited this year due to the court’s ruling.

Essentially, the ruling says Ohio must follow newly passed laws approved by the Republican-dominated state legislature. Advocates for the poor said that the Golden Week was critical for low-income voters, especially those who are homeless. And some voting rights advocates note that urban churches often took advantage of the extra weekend hours.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald blamed politics for the new restrictions on voting opportunities.

“One group of people in Ohio has decided that it's in their political interest to make it tougher instead of easier to vote," FitzGerald said. "And we think it's outrageous, but we're not going to be discouraged by it. And we hope there's a backlash against that."

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, in a written statement, praises the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling. He said he plans to implements the new state laws and notes Ohioans will still have 28 days of early voting, including the two Saturdays and one Sunday before Election day.

A law professor at Case Western Reserve University, Jonathan Adler, agreed the Supreme Court was right to put on hold a lower court ruling that ordered the state to vacate the newly passed laws restricting voting options.

"The lesson for those who would challenge revisions to voting rules in the future is that such challenges have to be made as soon as possible," Adler said. "Because you don’t want a situation where the clock essentially runs out. And the merits of Ohio’s rules I think will be litigated going forward. And I should just say as a practical matter I think that the argument that this degree of change in the rules will violate the Voter Rights Act or the equal protection clause is difficult to make.”

Adler points out many other states have fewer voting opportunities than Ohio.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s action just affects this election. The actual merits of the case that challenges the new voting laws will be heard at a later date.

And Dan Tokaji, a law professor at Ohio State University, said that should worry those who are pushing for additional voting opportunities.

“I think there’s reason for voting rights supporters to be very worried," Tokaji said. "This is not a court that has shown itself to be a friend of the right to vote. That was evident in last year’s decision from Shelby County, Alabama, which struck down a key component to the Voting Rights Act. It seems to me that if the U.S. Supreme Court gets its hands on one of these cases, further cutbacks to the right to vote are likely.”

Early voting is now set to start on Oct. 7. There’s no word on when a court might take up the actual merits of this lawsuit over whether the new laws that restrict voting are unconstitutional.

The on-air version of this story misidentified the law professor from Case Western Reserve University. He is Jonathan Adler, not Alder.

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