The ACLU, along with the Ohio chapter of the NAACP, filed a lawsuit on Thursday challenging the state's new restrictions on early voting. Given the timing, it seems plausible that the suit seeks to block Ohio's cuts to early voting in time for November's midterm elections.
Target No. 1 of the suit is Ohio Senate Bill 238, a new 2014 law that eliminated Ohio's so-called "Golden Week," of early voting, when voters in the state could previously register to vote and cast a vote at the same time. And there's another provision challenged in the suit: Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted's decision to eliminate Sunday voting, voting hours on the Monday before the election, and evening voting hours, in the name of having more "uniform" voting times across the state. Since minority communities are more likely to take advantage of early and evening voting periods, the suit argues, the new round of restrictions violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
The ACLU explained the complaint in a statement:
In the 2012 election, more than 157,000 Ohioans voted on the days that have now been cut. A disproportionately high percentage of those are low-income voters, many of whom are also African American. Lower-income voters tend to rely on evening and Sunday voting because they cannot take paid time off of work to vote during regular business hours. Single parents need these hours because it's the only time they can find friends or family who can provide child care. People experiencing homelessness or severe transience rely on the opportunity to register and vote at the same time during the first week of early voting. And among the African-American church community, Sunday voting has become an important cultural tradition.
Sound familiar? It should. Ohio is hardly the first state to eliminate voting hours disproportionately used by minority and low income voters. Wisconsin's governor just signed a new law that basically means the state only has early voting hours when everyone is at work. These new restrictions are the opposite of what a recent report from the Presidential Commission on Election Administration said states should be doing to ensure that all voters are able to get to the polls. That commission urged states to expand, not eliminate, early voting opportunities. Ohio has tried at least twice since 2011 to eliminate portions of the "Golden Week" voting period. Both times, the state has been forced to reinstate those hours, the ACLU explains.
Overall, the new restrictions on early voting hours nationwide come from Republican-controlled legislatures, justified by the argument that the uniform hours will combat voter fraud. But many, including a federal judge this week, have questioned whether that concern really warrants sweeping restrictions on when and how American citizens can vote. In a decision against Wisconsin's Voter ID laws, U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman wrote that "a person would have to be insane to commit voter-impersonation fraud," given the current strict punishments on the books for the crime.