Last-minute ruling effects early voting

Published 9:59 am Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A 5-4 Supreme Court decision staying a federal district court ruling declaring Ohio Revised Code 3509.03 unconstitutional is forcing county boards of election to change early and absentee voting procedures.

“We got an email at 5:40 p.m. on Monday with a copy of the order by the Supreme Court to change early voting hours,” Mark McCown, vice chair of the Lawrence County Board of Elections, said. “What this decision did was allow (Ohio Secretary of State John Husted) to adjust hours as he sees fit. Early voting will now begin on Oct. 7.”

An earlier federal district court ruling ordered Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted to set the days and hours for early in-person (EIP) voting.

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In February Gov. John Kasich signed into law a bill that moved the first early voting day to the day after the registration deadline, eliminating Golden Week, in place since 2005, which permitted people to register and vote the same day. Days later, Husted issued a directive limiting early voting hours across the state, according to an article in Businessweek.

Groups led by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued, saying the limits would have a disproportionate effect on black voters, according to Businessweek.

A federal trial judge and then a three-judge appellate panel backed the groups, ordering Ohio to reinstate the broader early voting rules, according to Businessweek.

On Sept. 12 Husted set the uniform hours, which allowed 10 days for EIP including Saturdays and extended hours. The Supreme Court’s decision, however, permitted Husted to rescind that decision and set the EIP hours himself, which he did. EIP is now permitted 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday beginning Oct. 7. The first of two Saturday’s for EIP is from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. on Oct. 25. The second Saturday is 8 a.m.-4 p.m. on Nov. 1. The only Sunday for EIP is 1-5 p.m. on Nov. 2. At no point will the Lawrence County or any board of elections office stay open past 5 p.m.

“Our job is to make it as easy as possible for registered voters to vote,” McCown said. “What this decision did was put the determination of the hours and days in the Secretary of State’s hands. What we need in Ohio is for the legislature to set the hours. Right now a single individual does. We need to get away from the partisanship of that.”

Husted, in a press release, said his plan is bipartisan.

“I plan to implement state law and the voting schedule established by Democrats and Republicans at the local level, meaning Ohioans will have 28 days of early voting, including two Saturdays and a Sunday,” Husted said. “Ohioans can have confidence that it remains easy to vote and hard to cheat in our state.”

Some candidates, however, don’t agree, such as Democrat candidate for Ohio’s Sixth Congressional District of the U.S. House of Representatives Jennifer Garrison, who expressed her displeasure with Husted’s decision.

“I was shocked and disappointed to hear the Supreme Court has allowed Ohio to cut early voting days,” Garrison said. “This makes it more difficult for hardworking Ohioans to have a say in our government and it’s the type of partisanship I am fighting against.”

The Supreme Court’s decision makes voting more uniform across the board, Husted said.

“Today’s ruling validates what I have long said: Elections in Ohio should be run by the same rules in every county and Ohioans should have the right to make those rules through their elected representatives,” he said. “We are gratified the United States Supreme Court has allowed Ohio’s early voting law to stand.”