When we last checked in with Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R), he was still trying to limit early-voting opportunities in advance, taking his case to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Today, he lost there, too.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Friday that Ohio must make early voting during the three days before the election available to all voters if it’s available to military members and voters who live overseas. The ruling upheld a lower court’s decision.
“The State’s asserted goal of accommodating the unique situation of members of the military, who may be called away at a moment’s notice in service to the nation, is certainly a worthy and commendable goal,” the court ruled. “However, while there is a compelling reason to provide more opportunities for military voters to cast their ballots, there is no corresponding satisfactory reason to prevent non-military voters from casting their ballots as well.”
The full ruling is online here.
To briefly recap for those who haven’t been following this story, Ohio had previously allowed voters an early-voting window of three days before Election Day, which in turn boosted turnout and alleviated long lines in 2008. This year, Republican officials wanted to close the window – active-duty servicemen and women could vote early, but no one else, not even veterans, could enjoy the same right.
One prominent Republican official recently conceded he opposes weekend voting because it would “accommodate the urban – read African American – voter-turnout machine.”
President Obama’s campaign team filed suit, asking for a level playing field, giving every eligible Ohio voter – active-duty troops, veterans, and civilians – equal access. Ohio Republicans kept pushing back, but as of today, they’ve lost.
There is, however, a catch.
For one thing, Husted and the Kasich administration may well appeal to the full 6th Circuit – which isn’t exactly the 9th Circuit when it comes to being reliably progressive – and hope for an en banc reversal. There isn’t much time remaining, but it’s something to look out for.
For another, the federal appeals court panel doesn’t require early-voting opportunities, and leaves the matter up to individual county elections boards to decide how to proceed.
As Rick Hasen explained, that may cause new problems.
[T]he court’s remedy creates a potential new equal protection problem for the state, by allowing different counties to adopt different uniform standards – though the Secretary of State could well impose uniformity.
Hasen’s take on this is a little wonky, and too long to excerpt here, but it’s worth checking out for a fuller understanding of today’s outcome.
That said, to make a long story short, today is a win for voting-rights advocates and the Obama administration, and a defeat for Ohio Republicans. It is not, however, the end of the fight, and GOP officials have some available options.