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Ohio sets early voting hours, but voting fight not over

Ohioans will have less access to the polls in November than last time around.
Mykia Eubanks and Jay Gwinn wait in line to vote early in downtown Cincinnati.
Mykia Eubanks and Jay Gwinn wait in line to vote early in downtown Cincinnati on Oct. 31, 2012.

His hand forced by a judge, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted has announced hours for early voting. But the war over access to the ballot in the nation's most pivotal swing state isn’t over by a long shot.

In a directive issued Tuesday afternoon, Husted, a Republican, set early voting hours for the four weeks before Election Day that are roughly comparable to the hours offered in 2012.

Husted acted after a federal judge, in a ruling last week, required him to restore early voting on the last three days before the election. Husted had previously tried to cut early voting on those days. The judge's ruling ensured that the "Souls to the Polls" drives that many black churches have conducted in recent years—in which people vote en masse after services—can continue.

Still, Ohioans will have less access to the polls in November—when both Gov. John Kasich, a potential 2016 presidential contender, and Husted himself will be on the ballot—than last time around. That’s because the state’s Republican-controlled legislature in February cut the first week of early voting. That was the so-called “Golden Week,” when people could register and vote at the same time.

Those cuts are being challenged by the ACLU, which alleges in a lawsuit that they violate the Voting Rights Act by disproportionately targeting blacks and Hispanics.

“Our litigation is still in front of the court and we will continue to advocate for a system of early voting that is accessible and fair to the many working Ohioans who need evening and weekend hours,” Mike Brickner of the ACLU of Ohio said via email.

In his directive, Husted ordered set Saturday voting hours for this fall from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.—two hours longer than in 2012, when polls closed at 2 p.m. on Saturdays. But he ordered that weekday early voting close at 5 p.m., when in 2012 it went until 7 p.m. That change could make it harder for some working Ohioans to cast ballots, voting rights supporters said.

“This directive fails to provide for evening early voting hours that working Ohioans need this cycle,” State Sen. Nina Turner, a Democrat and voting rights champion who is challenging Husted, said in a statement. 

Intensifying the state’s voting rights battle are opposing efforts to expand and restrict voting rights through citizen campaigns. African-American leaders are gathering signatures for a ballot initiative, which, if approved by voters this fall, would enshrine voting rights in the state constitution. Meanwhile, a conservative group is gathering signatures in order to press lawmakers to pass a voter ID law.