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Published: Friday, 5/2/2014 - Updated: 5 months ago

EARLY VOTING

Lawsuit protests early-voting cuts

Activists take Ohio to court over state’s new ballot limitations

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS — Voting and civil rights advocates on Thursday filed a federal lawsuit to block a new state law slicing off a week of early voting as well as a secretary of state directive limiting voting hours.

If the lawsuit is successful, it would put decisions on scheduling early voting back into the hands of county boards of elections. Some of those four-member boards, including Lucas County’s, deadlocked 2-2 on early voting schedules in 2012, ultimately making Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted the tie-breaker.

“I can’t speculate on what we may do,” Sean Young, attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union National Voting Rights Project, said when asked whether the ACLU would intervene later on a county-by-county basis.

RELATED ARTICLE: Stainbrook accused of trying to slow Lucas Co. elections prep

In a move separate from the ACLU suit, the Democratic National Committee and the Ohio Democratic Party also on Thursday filed a motion asking the federal judge who reinstated the final three early voting days immediately preceding the 2012 presidential election to make that order permanent. Some 96,000 Ohioans voted on those days in 2012.

The ACLU suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Columbus on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, the NAACP, and several black churches.

Senate Bill 238 is set to take effect in time for the Nov. 4 general election. It would kill the so-called “golden week,” the first six days of early voting that overlap with the last days of registration. During that period, voters may register and then immediately cast an absentee ballot to be counted later after the voter’s eligibility checks out.

The suit contends that reducing the number of days in which people may cast absentee ballots by mail or in person from 35 to 29 would disproportionately affect minority and urban voters as well as the elderly and students who’ve been statistically more likely to take advantage of it. In the 2012 presidential election, 157,000 in-person early votes were cast on the days that would be eliminated by the law and directive.

The churches said the loss of voting days, particularly Sundays, would hurt their “souls to polls” drives in which congregants are taken from services to voting stations.

“The principle of this case transcends party politics,” said Carrie Davis, League of Women Voters executive director.

“Realistic and fair access to the ballot will always ensure a healthy democracy, which is a goal we all share. ... No election strategy should make it harder to vote.”

Senate Bill 238 did not set hours or days of the week on which voting may occur during its shorter early-voting window.

Mr. Husted’s directive for the Nov. 4 election largely limited early voting hours statewide to normal weekday business hours and the last two Saturdays.

“It’s ironic that Secretary Husted is being sued for treating all voters equally and for supporting a bipartisan voting schedule that gives Ohioans an entire month to cast ballots,” Husted spokesman Matt McClellan said.

“The ACLU is targeting the wrong state because by every objective measure Ohio has expansive opportunities to vote.”

In addition to the court challenges, some in the state are working to gather at least 385,000 valid signatures of registered voters by July 2 to qualify for the fall ballot. They hope to get more than 500,000 to make up for invalid signatures.

The effort — a campaign to amend the Ohio Constitution with broader voting rights — will be in Toledo on May 10.

Toledo City Councilman Lindsay Webb said a rally is planned for 1-3 p.m. that day at the Laborers Local 500 hall in Toledo. On hand will be state Rep. Alicia Reece (D., Cincinnati).

Staff writer Tom Troy contributed to this report.

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



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