The GOP-dominated legislature unconstitutionally violated Ohioans' voting rights by eliminating "Golden Week" and other actions that cut access to the ballot, a Republican federal judge ruled today. Judge Michael H. Watson of U.S. District Court in Columbus ordered Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted and Attorney General Mike DeWine to stop enforcing the decreased voting period. If the ruling stands, that means Ohioans will now be able to vote 35 days before the November general election -- including for a so-called "Golden Week" in which an eligible resident can register to vote and cast an absentee ballot at the same time.
Republican state policymakers have approved voter-suppression policies across much of the country in recent years, but GOP officials in Ohio went further than most, going out of their way to place new hurdles between Ohioans and their democracy.
About a decade ago, in response to a messy and needlessly complex voting system, Ohio created a vastly improved process for the state's voters. In 2010, however, Republicans took control of Ohio government, deliberately undid the improvements, and by 2014, the state had imposed harsh new restrictions on voter registrations, absentee ballots, and early voting.
As the measures were being approved, the editorial board of the Cleveland Plain Dealer argued, "Ohio House Republicans appear poised to pass two measures that, disguises aside, aim to limit voting by Ohioans who might vote for Democrats. That's not just political hardball. It's an affront to democracy."
Republicans, led by Gov. John Kasich (R), imposed the restrictions anyway. Today, the Columbus Dispatch reported that a federal judge pushed back against the far-right tide.
Judge Michael H. Watson, by the way, was appointed to the federal bench by George W. Bush. He's also the former chief counsel to former Ohio Gov. Bob Taft -- who also happens to be a Republican -- making today's ruling that much more striking.
As the Dispatch's report added, Watson ruled that Ohio's recent voting restrictions imposed a disproportionate "burden on African Americans' right to vote," and violate both the U.S. Constitution and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
State officials will no doubt appeal to the 6th Circuit, but elections-law expert Rick Hasen, who has a more detailed analysis of today's decision, noted that the 6th Circuit "has among the most pro-voting rights views of both constitutional and voting rights theories."
And if that appeals court has the final say on the matter, the right couldn't count on a 4-4 Supreme Court to shield the voting restrictions. Watch this space.