Federal judge rules Ohio early voting cuts unconstitutional
Federal judge rules Ohio early voting cuts unconstitutional

A judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio [official website] on Tuesday ruled [opinion, PDF] that the 2014 elimination of the state’s early in-person (EIP) voting was unconstitutional and in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) [DOJ materials]. While the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] reached a settlement agreement in April 2015 reinstating one day of Sunday voting and providing evening hours on weekdays [JURIST report], the so-called “Golden Week” process was not reinstated as part of that agreement. Golden Week is “a period of time in which Ohioans could both register and vote on the same day.” This helps create more opportunity for voters who may not have the time or resources to register and vote on separate days, as well as providing more voting time to prevent long lines. Judge Michael Watson stated in his decision:

The elimination of the extra days for EIP voting provided by Golden Week will disproportionately burden African Americans, as expert and anecdotal evidence reflects that African Americans vote EIP, and specifically EIP during Golden Week, at a significantly higher rate than other voters. … [Additionally,] it may be more difficult for voters with time, resource, transportation, and childcare restraints to make two separate trips to register and vote, and Golden Week allowed individuals to do both at once. … The elimination of [same-day registration] means that voters must now register and vote at separate times, which increases the “cost of voting,” especially for socioeconomically disadvantaged groups.

Statistical and anecdotal evidence cited by Watson showed support for the claims that African Americans utilized this procedure greater than other groups, and that the elimination of this inevitably places a disproportionate burden on them to the point of violating constitutional rights and the VRA.

Ohio was also in voting news in March when a judge for Ohio’s Franklin County Court of Common Pleas [official website] granted an emergency order [text, PDF] allowing 17-year-olds who will turn 18 by the November election to vote in the Ohio primary [JURIST report]. However, voting rights remain a controversial legal topic across the entire US. Last week a judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] that Virginia’s voter identification law, which requires that voters have a valid form of ID either before voting or within three days after voting, is constitutional [JURIST report]. Also last week a federal judge ruled that Kansas cannot require voters to provide proof of citizenship [JURIST report] when registering to vote. Last month a federal judge upheld [JURIST report] North Carolina’s voter ID law. Earlier last month a federal appeals court held that a Wisconsin voter ID law needs to be re-examined [JURIST report]. In March a federal appeals court agreed to reconsider [JURIST report] Texas’ voter ID law before the entire court. Last May the New Hampshire Supreme Court struck down [JURIST report] a 2012 law requiring voters to be state residents, not just domiciled in the state. In March of last year Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed a new law [JURIST report] that made Oregon the first state in the nation to institute automatic voter registration.