Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted announced Tuesday he is cutting early voting on Sundays and weekday evenings, dealing another blow to the voting rights effort in the nation's most pivotal swing state. Husted's change would spell doom for a voting method that's popular among African-Americans in Ohio and elsewhere. Many churches and community groups lead "Souls to the Polls" drives after church on the Sunday before the election. There's little doubt that cuts to early voting target blacks disproportionately. In 2008, black voters were 56% of all weekend voters in Cuyahoga County, Ohio's largest, even though they made up just 28% of the county's population.
Zachary Roth has been keeping a close eye on developments in the Buckeye State, where Husted is apparently picking up where he left off two years ago.
Mike Brickner, a spokesperson for the Ohio American Civil Liberties Union, told msnbc, "By completely eliminating Sundays from the early voting schedule, Secretary Husted has effectively quashed successful Souls to the Polls programs that brought voters directly from church to early voting sites."
In the larger context, it's worth keeping two angles in mind. First, there's simply no reason to impose these new voting restrictions on Ohio. Second, this is only part of an even broader campaign against voting rights launched by Republican officials in the state.
On the former, those who support voting restrictions usually argue the measures are necessary to prevent "voter fraud." The argument is a rather transparent fig leaf -- the fraud scourge is generally limited to the imaginations of conservative activists -- but that's their story and they're sticking to it.
But going after early voting is something else entirely because it has nothing to do with the fear of fraud. If an Ohioan can legally cast a ballot, it shouldn't matter whether he or she votes on Election Day Tuesday or the Sunday before. The only reason to close the early-voting window is to discourage participation -- it's the kind of move an official makes if he or she wants fewer voters.
As for the larger "war on voting," Ohio Republicans have kept their foot on the gas. Just last week, GOP policymakers in the state ended the so-called "Golden Week," when Ohioans can register and vote on the same day, while at the same time, making it harder for voters to receive absentee ballots.
As we discussed last week, Ohio's recent voting history matters. A decade ago, during the 2004 elections, the state struggled badly with long voting lines, so state policymakers decided to make things better. And in 2008, Ohio's voting system worked quite well and voters enjoyed a much smoother process.
So smooth, in fact, that Ohio Republicans have worked in recent years to reverse the progress.
A month ago, President Obama's non-partisan commission on voting issued a detailed report, urging state and local election officials to make it easier for Americans to access their own democracy.
Perhaps Ohio Republicans missed the message?