This is big.
Federal judge Peter C. Economus issued a preliminary injunction blocking Republican changes to Ohio’s early voting. Read the coverage from the New York Times:
The case involved two main issues. First, early voting during evenings and on at least two Sundays before the election, and the so-called “Golden Week,” when a person could register and vote on the same day.
A copy of the opinion will be available below.
The Judge found that the revised voting schedule unconstitutionally burdened the right to vote of African Americans, lower income individuals, and the homeless. The judge noted that African American voters in Ohio tended to utilize the early voting opportunity voting at a greater rate than white voters. He noted, in regards to the Golden Week:
the Plaintiffs’ evidence paints a portrait illustrating the importance of Golden Week to those struggling on the margins of society. Such individuals are more likely to move frequently and lack access to transportation. Day to day life for such individuals can be chaotic and merely focused on survival. If a voter moves, he or she is required to update his or her voter registration. Lack of transportation means that travelling to the voting location can present its own hardships. For these reasons, the opportunity to register and vote at the same time during Golden Week is more than a mere convenience to poorer individuals and the homeless, it can make the difference between being able to exercise the fundamental right to vote and not being able to do so. Accordingly, the elimination of Golden Week burdens the right to vote.
The attorneys challenging the Republic changes presented evidence that the elimination of Sunday and evening voting would have a disparate impact on African Voters. The evidence suggested that African Americans have taken advantage of the ability to vote on Sundays during the early-voting period through Souls to the Polls initiatives. The attorneys also provided evidence that the limiting of evening hours would unfairly burden lower-income voters, as these voters are more likely to rely on public transportation and work jobs which could prevent them from finding the time during lunch and other breaks to travel to polling location during business hours.
The Judge rejected Republican claims that the changes were necessary to prevent voter fraud, finding that such of the evidence presented to justify the changes “does not withstand logical scrutiny.”
The opinion is well written and worth a read. Non-lawyers and lawyers who don’t work in this area may find the discussion of the intricacies of elections law hard to follow at times. So let’s break it down:
The changes proposed by the Republicans, whether through design or a happy coincidence, had a disproportionate impact on African American and lower-income voters. As a result, the changes violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act.
Kudos to the attorneys for the ACLU and the NAACP, as well as others, who worked hard on this effort.
Now, Attorney General DeWine has a choice. He is not required to continue to try to defend laws that are unconstitutional. So instead f pursuing an appeal, he should just accept the judge’s ruling and allow Ohioans to vote.