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In Early Voting Changes, Many See Voter Suppression

Jesse Bethea Jesse Bethea In Early Voting Changes, Many See Voter SuppressionPhoto by Walker Evans.
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Early voting was set to begin in Ohio a week ago, before a decision by the United States Supreme Court pushed the start date for early voting to today. On Sept 29, SCOTUS sided with the state and Republican-led legislature, which sought to limit Ohio’s early voting days, by staying decisions from the lower courts striking down the early voting limits.

“Today’s ruling validates what I have long said, elections in Ohio should be run by the same rules in every county and Ohioans should have the right to make those rules through their elected representatives,” said Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted in a press release issued Sept. 29. “I plan to implement state law and the voting schedule established by Democrats and Republicans at the local level, meaning Ohioans will have 28 days of early voting, including two Saturdays and a Sunday.”

While the last minute change has been jarring for some, shuttering polling stations the day before they were supposed to open, the decision is considered particularly offensive to Ohioans who believe the early voting limits represent a deliberate effort to disenfranchise them.

The NAACP, one of the groups represented in the original ACLU injunction against the Ohio’s early voting restriction, regards the delay as a form of suppression against minority voters. In a press release issued by the NAACP, Interim General Counsel Marshall Taylor said the organization is “extremely disappointed” in the Court’s decision.

“By reversing the District Court’s order,” said Taylor, “the Supreme Court has placed its stamp of approval on the disenfranchisement of thousands of potential Ohio voters, including a disproportionate number of minority, elderly, student, and working-class voters.”

In the same press release, Sybil Edwards-McNabb, president of the NAACP Ohio State Conference said, “We are very disappointed in the Supreme Court decision but we realize that it is not based on merit.” Edwards-McNabb also said the NAACP State Conference will focus on using the remaining early voting days encouraging voter turnout.

“We want voters at the polls,” said Edwards-McNabb, “and once there, we encourage them to make intelligent and informed decisions.”

The League of Women Voters of Ohio was also represented by the ACLU’s injunction. Carrie Davis, the League’s Executive Director, said it’s the LWV’s view that voting needs to be as accessible as possible for all voters, which includes having weekend and voting hours when working people have time to vote.

Restrictions on early voting heavily burden African-Americans, said Davis, as well as low-income Ohioans, a bracket that includes many women because of wage disparities between male and female workers. Davis also said the legislature’s plan to eliminate “Golden Week,” a period during which people could register to vote and cast a ballot on the same day, was “rushed through” without much deliberation and that the rapid changes to the early voting policy have created too much confusion.

“We are very disturbed by the timing of the decision, putting a halt to that early voting less than 24 hours before it was supposed to start,” said Davis.

Davis said this decision was just the first part of the lawsuit and that the rest of the case will still continue. She and LWV want Ohioans to know they can still vote early, that they should make a plan for when and how they will cast their ballot and then contact their elected officials and continue the debate over early voting.

The LWV is now focused on mitigating the restriction’s impact on the upcoming election. LWV is printing reading materials for voters to explain when and where they can vote, as well as updating information on their website every time a change occurs. Davis said that if LWV could raise the money, she would like to run ads or PSAs with more information on early voting.

“The more immediate concern is trying to help voters navigate these changes,” said Davis. “Every time Ohioans go to the vote, the rules have changed.”

For ongoing discussion on early voting in Ohio, CLICK HERE to visit our Messageboard.

For more information on voting in Ohio this fall, visit www.lwvohio.org.

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