A federal judge has blocked Ohio's cuts to early voting and its elimination of same-day voter registration -- a major voting rights victory in the nation's ultimate presidential battleground state. Judge Peter Economus ruled Thursday that the cuts violated the Voting Rights Act's ban on racial discrimination in voting, as well as the Equal Protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. He issued an injunction barring them from going into effect before the November election, and directed Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted to add a second Sunday of early voting.
Following up on our coverage from June, Ohio Republicans have been extremely aggressive in recent years, imposing new restrictions on voting rights. In February, for example, GOP policymakers in the state ended the so-called "Golden Week," when Ohioans can register and vote on the same day, and at the same time, they also made it harder for voters to receive absentee ballots.
Soon after, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) curtailed early-voting opportunities and announced Sunday voting would be eliminated entirely statewide. Voting-rights advocates looking for some compelling explanation for these moves found none.
As it turns out, a federal court was also unsatisfied with state officials' explanation. Zack Roth reported today on an important new court ruling.
The ruling is available in its entirety here (pdf). As the ACLU explained in a press statement, it's a rather sweeping victory, restoring the first week of early voting and Sunday voting, the latter of which has been a key Republican target because of "Souls to the Polls" drives organized by predominantly African-American churches.
If the outcome seems at all familiar, there's a good reason for that. As Zack noted, Judge Economus, a Clinton appointee, has ruled twice before against Ohio Republicans on the issue of voting rights, including a decision earlier this summer restoring some early voting.
Rick Hasen, an elections-law expert, dug deeper into the legal details of the ruling and its prospects at the appellate level. The ACLU, meanwhile, which challenged the Ohio voting restrictions, is delighted.
"This ruling will safeguard the vote for thousands of Ohioans during the midterm election," Dale Ho, director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project, said in a press statement. "If these cuts had been allowed to remain in place, many voters would have lost a critical opportunity to participate in our democratic process this November. This is a huge victory for Ohio voters and for all those who believe in protecting the integrity of our elections."
Update: Husted announced an appeal this afternoon.