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SUPCUS Ruling Leaves Future Of Early Voting Unclear

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Ohioans who planned to vote in person today didn’t get that chance because of an order from the U.S. Supreme Court just hours before the voting window was set to open. Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles reports on what the ruling means for the future of early in-person voting.  

In recent years, Ohio has had a so called “Golden week” when voters could both register and cast ballots at the same time.  Ohio voters also had weekend voting hours on the Saturdays and Sundays leading up to Election Day.  But a last minute injunction by the U.S. Supreme Court has changed that.  No more Golden Week.  And the weekend voting days and hours are limited this year due to the court’s ruling. Essentially, the ruling says Ohio must follow newly passed laws approved by the Republican dominated state legislature. Advocates for the poor said that the Golden Week was critical for very low income voters, especially those who are homeless, and some voting rights advocates note that urban churches often took advantage of the extra weekend hours. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald blames politics for the new restrictions on voting opportunities.

FitzGerald – “One group of people in Ohio has decided that it is in their political interest to make it tougher instead of easier to vote.”

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, in a written statement, praises the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling.  He says he plans to implements the new state laws and notes Ohioans will still have 28 days of early voting, including the two Saturdays and one Sunday before Election day. A law professor at Case Western Reserve University, Jonathan Alder, agrees the Supreme Court was right to put on hold a lower court ruling that ordered the state to vacate the newly passed laws restricting voting options.

Alder – “The lesson for those who would challenge revisions to voting rules in the future is that those challenges need to be made as soon as possible because you don’t want a situation where the clock runs out.  And the merits of Ohio’s rules I think will be litigated going forward.  And I should just say as a practical matter that this degree of change will violate the voter rights act or the equal protection clause is difficult to make.”

Alder points out many other states have fewer voting opportunities than Ohio.  The U.S. Supreme Court’s action just affects this election.  The actual merits of the case that challenges the new voting laws will be heard at a later date.  And Dan Tokaji, a law professor at Ohio State University, says that should worry those who are pushing for additional voting opportunities.

Tokaji – “I think there’s reason for voting rights supporters to be very worried.  This is not a court that has shown itself to be a friend of the right to vote.  That was evident in last year’s decision from Shelby County, Alabama which struck down a key component to the voting rights act.  It seems to me that the U.S. Supreme Court gets its hands on one of these cases, further cutbacks to the right to vote are likely.”

Early voting is now set to start on October 7. There’s no word on when a court might take up the actual merits of this lawsuit over whether the new laws that restrict voting are unconstitutional.

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