Federal Judge Orders Ohio to Restore Early Voting on 3 Days Before Election Day

U.S. District Court Judge Peter C. Economus sided with the Obama for America campaign on Wednesday, ordering Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted to restore early, in-person voting on the three days before Election Day. In 2012 the Obama campaign sued after the Ohio legislature passed a law that cut off in-person early voting three days prior to Election Day. The plaintiffs claimed that the law gave military voters an unfair advantage by allowing them to vote until the Monday before the election. I wrote in September, 2012:

The Obama for America campaign, the DNC, and the Ohio Democratic Party 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."

Ohio has one of the the most generous early voting laws in the country, allowing four weeks of no-fault absentee voting by mail and in person. The defendants argued that the three days prior to Election Day should be focused on preparing for the election rather than processing voters.  Husted asserted that, "An injunction will interfere with their [sic] ability of boards of elections to properly prepare voting locations, supplies, and registration lists during the most crucial time for Election Day preparation."

Democrats accused Husted and Ohio Republicans of trying to suppress the African American vote by eliminating voting on the Sunday before the election when they said many churches bused voters to the polls. They also said that military voters should have no special privileges.

Judge Economus sided with the Obama campaign’s argument that military voters cannot be treated differently under the law. Obama for America had argued that Ohio’s law giving members of the military extra days and hours to vote constituted “arbitrary and inequitable treatment of similarly situated Ohio voters.”

Economus 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 …

Secretary of State Husted agreed that the state should have uniform voting hours and earlier this year directed boards of elections in all 88 counties to hold the same early, in-person voting hours during the 2014 elections, while still allowing extra hours for UOCAVA voters. The schedule did not include any Sundays.