Backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, groups including the Ohio Conference of the NAACP are asking a federal court to block recent Ohio Republican actions to cut down early voting days and hours.
Filed in the Southern District Court, the lawsuit seeks to overturn Senate Bill 238, which passed in February and reduced early in-person voting from 35 days to 29 days before the election. The law also eliminated the “golden week” when voters could register and vote on the same day.
The lawsuit also seeks to invalidate a directive by Secretary of State Jon Husted that sets uniform early-voting hours across all 88 counties. The directive, based on a recommendation by the bipartisan Ohio Association of Elections Officials, did not include evening hours, Sunday hours or voting on Monday before Election Day.
If the suit succeeds, ACLU attorney Sean Young said, Ohio’s early voting would be returned to 35 days for the general election and county elections boards would be allowed to set their own hours within that period. County elections boards are divided with two Democrats and two Republicans, and Husted breaks tie votes.
“Voting should be designed for the convenience of voters, not for the ability of politicians to use elections as part of their voting strategy,” said Freda Levenson, managing attorney for the ACLU of Ohio. “These were cuts that had a disproportionate impact on certain classes of voters.”
Ohio Democrats have argued that those voters — particularly lower-income and African-American voters — tend to support their candidates.
The ACLU and the ACLU of Ohio brought the complaint on behalf of groups including the Ohio NAACP, the League of Women Voters of Ohio and a few African-American churches.
The groups estimate 157,000 voters cast ballots in 2012 on days that would not be available this November.
“From a voting-rights perspective, it makes absolutely no sense to slash these opportunities,” said Carrie Davis, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio.
The Rev. Dale Snyder of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Columbus said the restrictions also will end the “ Souls to the Polls” program, where some black churches transport parishioners to the polls on the Sunday before Election Day.
Republicans have argued that no one is hindered from voting, because even at 29 days, Ohio still has more early voting than most states. Plus, people also can mail their ballots. Husted and legislative Republicans have argued it’s fair to have a uniform system of early voting.
“It’s ironic that Secretary Husted is being sued for treating all voters equally and for supporting a bipartisan voting schedule that gives Ohioans an entire month to cast ballots,” said spokesman Matt McClellan. “The ACLU is targeting the wrong state because by every objective measure, Ohio has expansive opportunities to vote.”
Democrats and the groups who filed the lawsuit argue that large counties have different voting challenges than those with only a fraction of the population, so they should be allowed to set different early-voting schedules.
The case has been assigned to Judge Gregory L. Frost. The federal courts in 2012 blocked a law that would have banned early voting on the final three days before Election Day.
Separately yesterday, the Democratic National Committee and the Ohio Democratic Party filed a motion for summary judgment in the Southern District Court to allow for voting in the three days before Election Day.
“The fact is that it’s easy to vote in Ohio and the plaintiffs should be joining Secretary Husted in making sure all voters know their voting options, rather than trying to scare them into believing it’s hard,” McClellan said. “That’s the real voter suppression.”