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Judge blocks Ohio from limiting early voting

Preliminary injunction restores 35-day period

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An estimated 157,000 Ohioans cast ballots during the final three days before the 2012 general election and during Golden Week.

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COLUMBUS — Ohio cannot enforce a new state law for this election that reduced the number of days available for voters to cast absentee ballots by mail or in person, a federal judge ordered today.

U.S. District Court Judge Peter C. Economus granted a preliminary injunction sought by the NAACP, the League of Women Voters of Ohio, and a group of African American ministers that effectively restores the full 35 days of early voting prior to the Nov. 4 general election.

He found that the law is likely unconstitutional even though the state argued that its absentee voting options are more liberal than most states in the nation. His order requires Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, to add more evening voting hours and an additional Sunday to the hours he previously had set through a directive.

“Despite the fact that individual voters may simply choose to vote at other times during the current early-voting period, the socio-economic and other factors identified by the plaintiffs coupled with the reductions to (early in-person) voting caused by (the law and an associated directive) result in fewer voting opportunities for African Americans than other groups of voters, as it will be more difficult for African Americans to vote during the days and hours currently scheduled than for members of other groups.”

The judge ordered Mr. Husted to require all county boards of election to adhere to a uniform schedule of early voting that would take place beginning on Sept. 30 that would include additional evening hours between Monday, Oct. 20 and Friday, Oct. 24 and between Monday, Oct. 27 and Friday, Oct. 31.

It also provides for voting on Sunday, Oct. 26, in addition to the Sunday voting already provided on Nov. 2 under Mr. Husted’s current directive.

Senate Bill 238 had reduced the number of absentee voting days from 35 under prior law to 28 or 29 prior to an election, depending on the calendar. The law eliminated Golden Week, the six-day overlap between the prior 35-day absentee/​early voting window and the 30-day registration deadline. During that period, a voter may register and cast on the spot an absentee ballot that would be counted later only after the voter’s eligibility checked out.

Within the constraints of Senate Bill 238, Mr. Husted had issued a directive setting statewide hours for the remaining days that largely limited in-person voting to weekday business hours, two Saturdays, and one Sunday.

An estimated 157,000 Ohioans cast ballots during the final three days before the 2012 general election and during Golden Week. African American churches, in particular, had taken advantage of Sunday early voting hours, transporting congregations directly to the polls following services.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

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