Last year, Ohio’s Republican-controlled legislature cut a week of early voting and eliminated the “Golden Week” when voters can register and vote on the same day during the early voting period. GOP Secretary of State Jon Husted also issued a directive prohibiting early voting on the two days before the election, and on weekends and nights in the preceding weeks—the times when it’s most convenient to vote.
Today a federal court in Ohio issued a preliminary injunction against the early voting cuts, which it said violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, ordering Ohio to restore early voting opportunities before the midterms. “African Americans in Ohio are more likely than other groups to utilize [early] voting in general and to rely on evening and Sunday voting hours,” wrote District Court Judge Peter Economus, a Clinton appointee. As a consequence, the early voting cuts “result in fewer voting opportunities for African Americans.”
The lawsuit was brought by the ACLU and the Ohio NAACP. In 2012, 157,000 Ohioans cast ballots during early voting hours eliminated by the Ohio GOP. Overall, 600,000 Ohioans, 10 percent of the electorate, voted early in 2012.
Blacks in Ohio were far more likely than whites to vote early in 2008 and 2012. “In the November 2008 election in [Cleveland’s] Cuyahoga County, African-Americans voted early in person at a rate over twenty times greater than white voters,” according to the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. In cities like Cincinnati, Columbus and Dayton blacks voted early in numbers far exceeding their percentage of the population.
There’s an important backstory here. Early voting became a critical reform in Ohio after the disastrous 2004 election. Once Democrats and minority groups began using it in large numbers, Republicans repeatedly tried to curb early voting. As I’ve previously reported:
In 2004, Ohio had the longest lines in the country on Election Day, with some voters—particularly in large urban areas—waiting as long as seven hours to vote. A DNC survey estimated that 174,000 Ohioans—3 percent of the state’s electorate—left without voting. George W. Bush won the state by just 118,000 votes.