The Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously rejected an appeal by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted to overturn a lower court decision upholding early voting in Ohio three days before the election. The ruling was a major victory for voting rights—and yet another defeat for voter suppression efforts—allowing Ohio voters to cast a ballot when it’s most convenient and hopefully forestalling the long lines that marred the outcome of the 2004 election in the state.
That’s the good news. The bad news? Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted swiftly limited early voting hours on those crucial three days to 8 am–2 pm on Saturday, November 3; 1–5 pm on Sunday, November 4; and 8 am–2 pm on Monday, November 5. That means Ohio voters will have a total of only sixteen hours to cast a ballot during those three days. And before the weekend before the election, Ohio voters will still not be able to cast a ballot in-person on nights or weekends.
In 2008, the most populous counties in Ohio allowed more time for early voting—both in terms of days (thirty-five) and hours (on nights and weekends in many places). For the three days before the election, early voting locations were open for a total of twenty-four hours in Columbus’s Franklin County (8-5 on Saturday, 1-5 on Sunday and 8-7 on Monday) and 18 and a half hours in Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County (9-1 on Saturday, 1-5 on Sunday, 8:30-7 pm on Monday). During those final three pre-election days in 2008, 148,000 votes were cast and “wait times stretched 2 1/2 hours,” reported the Columbus Dispatch.
But the reduced hours in 2008 are certainly better than nothing, especially since the elimination of weekend and evening voting between October 2 to November 2 will make voting on the weekend before the election even more desirable. “This weekend is going to be very popular,” says Ellis Jacobs of the Miami Valley Voter Protection Coalition. “Ten of thousands of people across the State will take advantage of these days. In addition to making it possible for working people to vote in-person early, the extra hours will help take some of the pressure off polling places on Election Day.”
Voting on the Sunday before the election will also allow African-American churches to hold their traditional “Souls to the Polls” voter mobilization effort. This is a big deal, since African-Americans comprised the majority of early voters in cities like Dayton and Cleveland in 2008, and were twenty-six times more likely to vote in-person compared to white voters in Cuyahoga County in ’08.
Early voting numbers for 2012 are still a bit murky in Ohio, which does not report the early vote by partisan affiliation, but early vote guru Michael McDonald says “early voting is up quite a bit over the 2008 level.” It’s difficult to see how President Obama will win re-election without carrying Ohio, and how he wins Ohio without a very strong early vote turnout.
For more on the fight over early voting in Ohio, see “Ohio’s Secretary of State Subverts Voting Rights,” “Ohio GOP Admits Early Voting Cutbacks Are Racially Motivated” and “Ohio Early Voting Cutbacks Disenfranchise Minority Voters.”
Voting Rights Watch, our joint-project with Colorlines, is also reporting on voting rights fights across the country.