Updated Fri, May 2, 2014 10:25 am
The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio is suing the state in federal court over changes to the state’s early voting that are scheduled to take effect this fall. As Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles reports, the case says the new law infringes on the rights of several groups of voters.
Back in 2012, a lawsuit was filed by the Obama campaign because state leaders had passed legislation that had taken away some key early voting opportunities. The court ruled voting options on the weekend before the election must be offered. Earlier this year, Ohio lawmakers passed another bill that took away a week of early voting when people could both register to vote and cast a ballot at the same time. And Secretary of State Jon Husted ordered that uniform hours be in place at all boards of elections across the state, and that voting on the Sunday and Monday before Election Day would be eliminated. ACLU attorney Sean Young says in all, the voting opportunities being denied as a result of this new law are significant.
“Together these legislative and administrative cuts to early voting have eliminated the days and times used by more than 157,000 voters to cast ballots in the 2012 presidential election,” Young said. “And to put that number in perspective, the 2012 election was decided by fewer than 167,000 votes in Ohio.”
Young says the new law and Husted’s uniform hours directive violate the federal voting rights act because they eliminate hours that are most likely used by low income Ohioans, senior citizens, students and minorities.
“We believe that the numbers will show that African Americans overwhelmingly use early voting in person as compared to white voters in Ohio.”
The Reverend Dale Snyder, leader of an African American Episcopal Church in Columbus, says these new changes will eliminate ‘Souls to the Polls, a program that many black churches use to transport members to the polls on the Sunday before Election Day.
“These programs are not just about convenience,” Snyder said. “Many voters have difficulties getting away from their jobs to vote during the week hours. Others have transportation issues and mobility issues. Early voting opportunities provide genuine access. The voters served by our programs take their civic duties seriously. They want to go to the polls. They feel great pride when they place their ballot in the box. Giving these voters expanded options increases voter encouragement and contribution to a healthy democracy. How can this be a bad thing?”
But a spokesman for the Republican Secretary of State takes issue with this lawsuit. Matt McClellan says his boss has been a leader in making voting more accessible for Ohioans.
“I think it’s ironic that the Secretary is being sued for treating all voters equally and supporting a bipartisan voting schedule that gives Ohioans an entire month to cast a ballot,” McClellan said.
McClellan says Husted’s directive eliminating in person early voting on the Sunday before Election Day in gubernatorial elections comes from a bipartisan effort.
“The hours that are in place now are based on the bipartisan recommendations from the Ohio Association of Election Officials,” he said. “It does include Saturdays and in presidential elections, the recommendation does provide for early in person voting on the Sunday before the election. Now this plan is the only bipartisan plan on the table, despite the fact that Secretary Husted has long advocated for and called for passage of a bipartisan plan in the legislature that would establish uniform days and hours and code.”
McClellan says there are plenty of early voting opportunities in Ohio and he suggests the ACLU sue other states where no early voting opportunities are offered.
“The fact is that it is easy to vote in Ohio and the plaintiffs should be joining Secretary Husted in making sure all voters know their voting options rather than trying to scare them into believing it’s hard. And quite frankly, that’s the real voter suppression.”
But the ACLU says laws that restrict voting options that are popular with minorities are a pattern in the Ohio legislature. And they say it’s time for lawmakers to focus on ideas like online voter registration – an idea that Husted has supported – and other proposals that make the voting process easier for minorities and everyone else.