Supreme Court Denies Ohio Plea to Shorten Early Voting

  • October 17, 2012
  • By Jim Malewitz

The U.S. Supreme Court has rebuffed Ohio's last-ditch attempt to shorten its early voting period, confirming victory for the Obama Administration which argued the move would disproportionately affect minority and low-income would-be voters — those more likely to vote Democratic.

In a one-sentence order issued Tuesday (October 16), the high court denied Ohio's plea to reverse a lower court's injunction against a state law that would have shaved three days off the state's early voting period for all voters except members of the military, moving the deadline to Friday before Election Day.

The Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Court of Appeals earlier this month reinstated early voting because the state applied its changes unevenly. That court applauded Ohio for keeping the deadline intact for military voters who could be deployed with little notice, but said the law amounted to discrimination, creating a disadvantage for those without time to vote during work hours on weekdays.

It would be “worrisome,” the majority wrote, “if states were permitted to pick and choose among groups of similarly situated voters to dole out special voting privileges. Partisan state legislatures could give extra early voting time to groups that traditionally support the party in power and impose corresponding burdens on the other party's core constituents.”

About 105,000 Ohioans cast their ballots during the three days before the 2008 election, according to a study cited by the appeals court. That group was largely made up of women, the elderly and voters with little income or education, several studies showed.  

In 2005, Ohio enacted a law enabling all registered voters to file absentee ballots at their local boards of election offices until the Monday before the election. That was a response to the long lines on Election Day in 2004, which left some people waiting through the night to cast their votes. In 2011, however, the GOP-controlled legislature passed a law requiring all counties to shorten early voting, saying elections officials needed the weekend to prepare for Election Day.

The reasoning did not compel the appeals court.

“Despite the Court's decision today to deny our request for a stay, I firmly believe Ohio and its elected legislature should set the rules with respect to elections in Ohio, and not the federal court system,” Secretary of State Jon Husted said, responding to the Supreme Court order. “However, the time has come to set aside the issue for this election.”

On Tuesday Husted announced uniform hours for early voting statewide

Husted's appeal had been backed by 15 states, all represented by Republican attorneys general. The states argued the decision against Ohio had infringed upon states' sovereign rights to “set time, place, and manner requirements for voting subject only to an act of Congress.”

“The states have a vital interest in these issues,” the attorneys general wrote in an amicus brief.

In its next session, as Stateline reported Monday, the Supreme Court will weigh in on a voter registration case in Arizona that's expected to shed light on the larger conflict between states and the federal government in regulating elections.

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