Monday, May 21, 2018
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Right to vote

A court decision that expands early voting in Ohio is heartening, but other threats to the franchise persist

Ohioans will be able to vote in person on the three days before Election Day this November. This week, a federal court in Ohio properly rejected restrictions that the Republican-controlled General Assembly tried to impose on early voting.

But other efforts at vote suppression are likely to continue until Ohioans make clear to the authors of such schemes — at the ballot box and elsewhere — that they have had enough.

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This year, legislators enacted a law that shaves a week off Ohio’s previous 35-day early voting period before elections. It prevents Ohioans from registering and voting early at the same time; that provision faces a legal challenge.

Previous legislation prohibited early voting on the three days just before an election; a federal judge issued an order removing that restriction before the 2012 general election. For this November’s election, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted imposed a directive that would have halted early voting at noon on the Saturday before Election Day.

But U.S. District Court Judge Peter Economus, who also ruled in the 2012 case, said again this week that the law unconstitutionally set different early voting periods for military and other voters.

Mr. Husted said he sought to achieve “uniformity, bipartisanship, and equality” with his timetable. But trying to impose the same voting rules on large urban counties and small rural ones, with different needs, risks jeopardizing some voters’ ability to exercise their franchise in the name of artificial uniformity.

Ohio adopted early voting to avoid the long lines at polling places that plagued previous elections, notably in 2004. In the 2012 presidential election, 96,000 Ohioans voted early on the final three days before Election Day, according to the Democratic National Committee and Ohio Democratic Party, which sued to block the early-voting limits.

In-person early voters in Ohio tend to be minorities, poorer, and less-educated. African-Americans often take part in “souls to the polls” efforts by black churches on the final Sunday before Election Day. In the 2008 presidential election, according to the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, black voters in Cuyahoga County voted early and in person at 26 times the rate of white voters.

Early voters are also more likely to vote Democratic. It seems unlikely that state lawmakers didn’t understand who would be most affected by the restrictions they placed on early voting.

This attempt at disfranchisement failed, but others can be expected. Proposals persist that would require Ohio voters to present photo identification, even though Mr. Husted has shown that the vote “fraud” the requirement supposedly would address doesn’t exist.

Ohio voters remain afflicted by grotesque GOP-imposed gerrymandering that has made the General Assembly and the state’s U.S. House delegation unrepresentative of Ohioans. A state constitutional modernization commission that is supposed to be reviewing the issue and proposing improvements isn’t doing much of anything.

Secretary Husted says he will obey the judge’s ruling on early voting. Other Ohio Republicans should do likewise, rather than waste time on an appeal. They should also pay more attention to the proposals for broader vote reform offered by Mr. Husted, a former state House speaker.

Making it easier to vote is in Ohioans’ interest. Curbing ballot access is a narrow partisan interest. GOP officials have shown that, left to their own devices, they will serve the latter interest. Before they vote this year, Ohioans will have to decide who speaks for their rights.

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