Early-Voting Limits in Ohio Kept Out of the Way

     (CN) – Ohioans can vote on the same day they register this year after the 6th Circuit affirmed an injunction against a new law that would have canceled “Golden Week.”
     Lawmakers introduced Senate Bill 238 this year to eliminate what is commonly known as the “Golden Week” of the Ohio early-voting period. During Golden Week, the first of a five-week early-voting period, citizens of Ohio can register and vote on the same day.
     The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), on behalf of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), challenged the law under the equal-protection clause of the U.S. Constitution, as well as Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, claiming it disproportionately burdens black voters, women and the homeless.
     In addition to noting that low-income and single-parent voters are more likely to use the Golden Week because they are unable to get paid time off from work, the groups said census records show that black voters went to the polls from 2006 to 2010 “early in-person at nearly twice the rate of white voters, and then exceeded that rate in 2012.” (Emphasis in originals.)
     Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted set early in-person, or EIP, voting hours for the 2014 primary and general elections with Directive 2014-17 earlier this year.
     The directive removed the Sunday and evening hours of early voting, a change that the ACLU and NAACP said took direct aim at the “Souls to the Polls” program adopted by the black church community. These churches used their transportation, already in place on Sundays to take people to and from church, to take also visit early polling places.
     A federal judge in Columbus enjoined both SB-238 and Directive 2014-17, and the Cincinnati-based federal appeals court affirmed Wednesday.
     Husted and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine failed to challenge the District Court’s reliance on an expert for the plaintiffs whose statistical analysis showed that the reductions in early voting “disproportionately and negatively affected” black voters, according to the ruling.
     “In sum, we hold that the district court’s characterization of the overall burden imposed by SB 238 and Directive 2014-17 as significant, but not severe, was not clearly erroneous given the extensive evidence in the record of the burdens African American, lower-income, and homeless voters will face in voting, absent the times eliminated by SB 238 and Directive 2014-17,” Judge Karen Nelson Moore wrote for a three-member panel.
     Ohio’s claims about voter fraud and other justifications meanwhile do not outweigh the significant burden that the law could mean for black voters, the court added.
     “Defendants did not provide more than a handful of actual examples of voter fraud, and their general testimony regarding the difficulties of verifying voter registration before counting ballots did not clearly pertain to problems with Golden Week specifically,” Moore wrote, emphasis in original.
     As for expense, Moore said the “defendants had not demonstrated that they would ‘struggle’ with the costs of maintaining EIP voting.”
     “While defendants presented specific cost estimates from a handful of election boards for reinstating Golden Week, the District Court properly noted that those figures ‘lack[ed] a frame of reference’ in that defendants did not indicate whether or how those costs would be burdensome overall,” the 46-page decision states.
     There is also an adequate basis for the court to find that the plaintiffs would likely succeed on their Section 2 claims, according to the ruling.
     The 6th Circuit could still hear the case en banc, but for now the laws remained enjoined in time for the November election.

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