Ohio Secretary of State to appeal court ruling to allow weekend early voting
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted announced on Tuesday that he will appeal a federal court’s ruling to allow in-person early voting in the three days before the Nov. 6th election to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Last Friday, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s decision to block Husted from eliminating weekend early voting specifically for non-military voters.
“This ruling not only doesn’t make legal sense, it doesn’t make practical sense,” said Husted. “As a swing state, we in Ohio expect to be held to a high standard and level of scrutiny when it comes to elections.”
Ohio adopted early voting in response to the 2004 election where long lines turned prevented a significant number of voters, particularly working class voters, from voting on election day. President George W. Bush won Ohio by a 2.1% margin in 2004, giving the Republican incumbent the decisive 20 electoral votes needed to win the presidency.
Since Ohio introduced in-person early voting in 2005, the state has allowed all registered voters to cast their ballots in person at their local board of election office up to 35 days – including on the weekend and Monday – before the general election.
The weekend voting hours were provided to accommodate voters who aren’t able to take time off from work during the polling stations’ weekday operating hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Studies have shown that Ohio’s early voting rule has increased voting participation rates among women, low-income (those earning less than $35,000 a year), African-American, and older voters – the voting blocks that have been more inclined to support Democratic candidates in recent years.
But, last year the Republican-dominated state legislature passed HB 194 that created “two separate and contradictory deadlines: one on Friday and one on Monday” for non-military and military voters. Polls have shown that military voters are more likely to support Republican candidates.
To implement HB 194, Husted issued a directive in August to allow only military service members to cast their ballots in person on the Saturday, Sunday, and Monday before the November general election. Non-military voters, however, would lose 3 days of in-person early voting and must cast their early votes by 6 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 2. (Husted’s directive also eliminated all evening and weekend in-person early voting hours during that 35-day period.)
Husted cited the “burden” on local election boards to justify his directive, claiming that “halting in-person early voting at 6:00 p.m. on the Friday before the election is necessary to give local county boards of elections enough time to prepare for Election Day.”
Husted’s argument was rejected by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which noted that “the State has shown no evidence indicating how this election will be more onerous than the numerous other elections that have been successfully administered in Ohio since early voting was put into place in 2005.”
“During that time, the Ohio boards of elections have effectively conducted a presidential election and a gubernatorial election, not to mention many other statewide and local elections, all while simultaneously handling in-person early voting during the three days prior to the election. The State has not shown that any problems arose as a result of the added responsibilities of administering early voting, and in fact, it seems that one of the primary motivations behind instituting early voting was to relieve local boards of the strain caused by all voters casting their ballots on a single day,” the court’s opinion pointed out.
The court concluded that Husted’s order would actually disenfranchise nearly 100,000 voters who usually cast in-person ballots on the Saturday, Sunday, and Monday before the General Election. The voters who are most affected are “women, older, and of lower income and education attainment”.
“Because early voters have disproportionately lower incomes and less education than election day voters, and because all evening and weekend voting hours prior to the final weekend were eliminated by Directive 2012-35, ‘thousands of voters who would have voted during those three days will not be able to exercise their right to cast a vote in person,'” the court stated.
While acknowledging the special challenges facing military service members, the court ruled that the state should not re-write rules that favor one group of voters at the expense of another when it comes to in-person voting.
(Federal and state law provide absentee voting accommodations to military service members deployed abroad.)
“Equally worrisome would be the result if states were permitted to pick and choose among groups of similarly situated voters to dole out special voting privileges. Partisan state legislatures could give extra early voting time to groups that traditionally support the party in power and impose corresponding burdens on the other party’s core constituents,” the court concluded. “While we readily acknowledge the need to provide military voters more time to vote, we see no corresponding justification for giving others less time.”
- 6th Circuit Court of Appeals: Obama v. Husted opinion issued on Oct. 5, 2012 (PDF)
- Ohio Secretary of State: Secretary Husted to appeal federal court decision to the U.S. Supreme Court
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