Federal Court Restores Ohio Early Voting On Weekend Before Election Day
A federal court has restored early voting in Ohio during the weekend before November’s presidential election, issuing a ruling that says as many as 100,000 Ohioans, particularly minorities and poor people, will vote on these days if given the chance to do so.
While the decision by U.S. District Court Judge Peter Economus may be appealed by the Ohio Secretary of State, Republican John Husted, it is a major victory for the Obama campaign, which sued to restore early voting, as well as for Ohio’s African-American community, which, in recent elections have disproportionately voted on the weekend before Election Day. The decision said:
“In 2008, thousands of Ohio voters cast their votes in person in the three days prior to Election Day. Then, the State retracted that right, imposing a 6 p.m. Friday deadline. This Court finds that “in-person early voting” is a voting term that had included the right to vote in person through the Monday before Election Day, and, now, 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. Plaintiffs submit statistical studies to support their assertion that low-income and minority voters are disproportionately affected by the elimination of those voting days. Therefore, the injury to Plaintiffs is significant and weighs heavily in their favor.”
According to statistics submitted to the Court, 93,000 Ohioans out of more than 5 million voters statewide voted early in 2008’s presidential election. In 2010’s lower turnout mid-term election, 17.8 percent of all Ohioans voted early—mostly at county offices. In 2004, George W. Bush won the presidency by beating John Kerry by just under 119,000 votes.
Both major parties are very aware of the role that early voting can play, particularly for Democrats. Husted, a Republican, ordered all early voting to stop on Friday afternoon before Election Day. That created an uproar among Democrats, including the Obama campaign which sued, and also among some local election officials in Toledo who said they would not follow Husted’s order—prompting him to recently fire them.
The Obama campaign suit argued that all Ohio voters were not being treated equally under the state’s election law—because overseas military voters were being given more flexibility with voting periods than domestic early polling place voters. That analysis was twisted by right-wingers into false claims that Obama’s team was somehow undermining military voting rights, when, in fact, the opposite was true: they were arguing that all Ohioans should have the same early voting periods—military or not.
The Court’s ruling addressed this point, saying:
“On balance, the right of Ohio voters to vote in person during the last three days prior to Election Day—a right previously conferred to all voters by the State—outweighs the State’s interest in setting the 6 p.m. Friday deadline. The burden on Ohio voters’ right to participate in the national and statewide election is great, as evidenced by the statistical analysis offered by Plaintiffs and not disputed by Defendants. Moreover, the State fails to articulate a precise, compelling interest in establishing the 6 p.m. Friday deadline as applied to non-UOCAVA [overseas military] voters and has failed to evidence any commitment to the “exception” it rhetorically extended to UOCAVA voters. Therefore, the State’s interests are insufficiently weighty to justify the injury to Plaintiffs.”
The politics around voting Ohio have always been rough and there is no reason to believe that today’s ruling by a federal court will be the final word. Even if the Ohio Secretary of State does not appeal, there is a emerging and competing get-out-the-vote fight between Ohio’s Democrats and Republicans, who are being assisted by officials like Husted.
Earlier this week, Husted announced that his office would be mailing absentee ballots applications to every registered voter in Ohio. These applications, if returned, would let people vote by mail. It is important to note that almost all of the GOP’s voter fraud allegations and voter suppression tactics concern polling place voting, where key Democratic voting blocks such as African-Americans and students tend to vote. In contrast, the GOP’s get-out-the-vote strategy tends to emphasize mail-in ballots.
If the current legal landscape holds with early voting, then the Ohio GOP, helped by Husted, will be seeking to maximize their vote through absentee voting, while Democrats and the Obama campaign will be emphasizing early and polling place voting.
Let’s just hope the 2012 presidential election does not come down to Ohio, where it could very well be that Obama might be leading on Election Night but the steady trickle of late-arriving absentee ballots could see that lead reversed later in the week.
Of course, there is nobody checking voter IDs for people voting by mail, or seeing if the GOP’s activists are filling in ballots for people who do not return Husted’s absentee ballot applications. According to a recent national survey of election fraud prosecutions, abuses tied to absentee ballot voring are nearly 50 times more prevalent the polling place voter impersonation.