A federal judge ruled Friday that Ohio’s uniform voting law that gives special privileges to military voters is unconstitutional. Judge Peter Economus, a retired judge brought in to hear overload cases in the Southern District of Ohio, Columbus Division, also ruled by fiat to impose statewide weekend voting hours on the entire state. Ironically, Economus relied heavily on Bush v. Gore (2000), citing it seven times in his ruling. In particular:
“[T]he State may not, by later arbitrary and disparate treatment, value one person’s vote over that of another” Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98, 104-05 (2000).
The Obama for America campaign, the DNC, and the Ohio Democratic Party had sued Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted in an attempt to overturn several Ohio election reform laws and directives which attempted to assure uniform voting days and times across the state, with some expanded privileges for military voters in accordance with the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA). Although Ohio has extremely generous no-fault absentee voting, Husted had set the deadline for in-person absentee voting at 6:00 p.m. the Friday before the election and eliminated weekend voting. Prior to his directive, access to the polls varied widely from county to county. Noted in the ruling:
In 2008, six of Ohio’s 88 counties chose not to offer any in-person absentee voting on the Saturday prior to Election Day, nearly all chose not to do so on that Sunday, and all were open during their regular weekday business hours on that Monday … In 2010, when fewer voters were expected, fourteen counties chose not to offer any in-person absentee voting on that Saturday, nearly all chose not to do so on that Sunday, and all were open on that Monday.
Read all the court docs here.
Judge Economus acknowledged that Ohio voters already have liberal voting privileges, and said: “The issue here is not the right to absentee voting, which, as the Supreme Court has already clarified, is not a ‘fundamental right.’”
However, the judge sided with the Obama campaign’s argument that military voters cannot be treated differently under the law. Obama had argued that Ohio’s rules giving members of the military extra days and hours to vote constituted “arbitrary and inequitable treatment of similarly situated Ohio voters.”
The judge agreed:
This Court stresses that where the State has authorized in-person early voting through the Monday before Election Day for all voters, “the State may not, by later arbitrary and disparate treatment, value one person’s vote over that of another … Here, that is precisely what the State has done …
This is a serious, potentially precedent-setting standard that could have a chilling effect on the right to vote for members of the military.