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Sunday, December 11, 2016

Ohio Judge Upholds Early Voting Rights For All Citizens

A federal judge has ordered Ohio to restore in-person voting rights on the weekend before election day, in the second major victory for voting rights advocates in two days.

In July, the Obama campaign filed a lawsuit stating that Ohio’s new election law “arbitrarily eliminates early voting during the three days prior to Election Day for most Ohio voters, a right previously available to all Ohio voters.” The recently enacted law gave preferential treatment to members of the military, who were allowed to vote at a board of elections up through the Monday before Election Day, while civilians had an earlier voting deadline of 6 p.m. on the Friday before Election Day.

The Obama campaign argued that the law was politically motivated and designed to suppress Democratic voters, who are most likely to utilize early-voting options. Additionally, the campaign disputed the legality of instituting unequal voting rights for UOCAVA (“Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voter Act) and non-UOCAVA voters.

In his opinion, Judge Peter C. Economus agreed with the Obama campaign’s complaint.

“A citizen has a constitutionally protected right to participate in elections on an equal
basis with other citizens in the jurisdiction.” Dunn v. Blumstein, 405 U.S. 330, 336 (1972). In
Ohio, that right to participate equally has been abridged by Ohio Revised Code ‘ 3509.03 and
the Ohio Secretary of State’s further interpretation of that statute with regard to in-person early
voting. In 2005, Ohio expanded participation in absentee balloting and in-person early voting to
include all registered Ohio voters. Now, “in-person early voting” has been redefined by the Ohio
legislature to limit Plaintiffs’ access to the polls. This Court must determine whether preliminary
injunctive relief should be granted to Plaintiffs on their claim that Ohio’s restriction of in-person
early voting deprives them of their fundamental right to vote. Following Supreme Court
precedent, this Court concludes that Plaintiffs have stated a constitutional claim that is likely to
succeed on the merits. As a result—and as explained below—this Court grants Plaintiffs’
motion for preliminary injunction.

Just hours after the decision, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced that he will appeal to the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. As election law expert Rick Hasen notes, the Sixth Circuit has been “bitterly divided in election law disputes in the past”, and the case “could get very ugly very quickly.” So while the Obama campaign won a victory today, the battle for voting rights in Ohio is far from over.

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