A federal judge has ordered that Ohio restore the last three days of early voting—potentially blunting some of the harm caused by Republican-backed cuts to the early voting period.
District Court Judge Peter Economus ordered Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted to “set uniform and suitable in-person early voting hours for the three days preceding all future elections.”
The ruling came in Obama for America v. Husted, the 2012 case in which the Obama campaign challenged a directive by Husted that cut early voting on the weekend and Monday right before the election.
In October of that year, Economus had blocked the cuts, ruling that because Husted’s order made an exception for service-members, it violated the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection. As a result, the cuts were not in force for Election Day 2012. But it wasn’t until Wednesday that Economus issued a ruling on the merits. officially striking down the cuts as unconstitutional.
“Now that the court has ruled, I will follow the decision,” Husted, a Republican, said in a statement sent Wednesday afternoon.
Daniel Tokaji, an election law professor at Ohio State University, said the ruling implicitly goes after Husted for trying to use his authority to benefit the GOP.
“I view this order as calling shenanigans on Secretary of State Husted,” said Tokaji. “What’s motivated courts in a lot of these cases has been a perception that the manipulation of early voting rules is motivated by partisan gain. And that is certainly the subtext of today’s ruling.”
Reams of evidence show that black voters disproportionately use early voting, and especially Sunday voting. In recent years, black churches have led “Souls to the Polls” drives, where people vote en masse after services.
But the decision doesn’t resolve Ohio’s early voting controversy. Earlier this year, the Republican-controlled legislature passed a law that reduce the early voting period by six days, including the so-called “Golden Week” when people can register and vote at the same time. Soon after, Husted announced that there would be no Sunday voting, not any week-day early voting after 5 pm. He cited the need for uniformity across counties, though the populations of Ohio’s counties vary widely.
With the exception of the Sunday before the election, those cuts are all still in place. They are being challenged by the ACLU, which has alleged in a lawsuit that they violate the Voting Rights Act.
Still, Democrats cheered Wednesday’s ruling.
“Today’s decision reaffirms the importance of voting early,” Democratic National Committee chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in a statement. “In 2012, 96,000 Ohioans were able to cast their ballot during the final three days of early voting. This November and beyond, thousands more will be able to join them. This isn’t just a victory for the Democratic Party, it’s a victory for the democratic process.”