A federal appeals court on Wednesday affirmed a district court decision restoring early voting cuts and expanding early voting hours. The ruling from the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals is a setback for Secretary of State Jon Husted, who had appealed a lower court’s order that he expand early voting hours and move the first day of early voting from Oct. 7 to Sept. 30. The three-judge panel previously rejected a request to delay the court order pending Husted’s appeal. Husted then expanded statewide early, in-person voting hours while the case proceeded. Husted, in a statement released late Wednesday afternoon, said he will ask the full appeals court to overturn the panel’s ruling. “This case is about Ohioans’ right to vote for the public officials that make the rules and laws we live under, and yet, this ruling eliminates elected officials’ ability to do what we elected them to do,” Husted said. “That’s wrong and I must appeal this case.”
Civil rights groups and several African-American churches sued state officials in May over a new state law eliminating “Golden Week,” a week-long window when people could both register to vote and cast a ballot in Ohio, and a statewide early, in-person voting schedule that did not include Sundays. Attorneys led by the American Civil Liberties Union successfully argued in U.S. Southern District Court that the reduced number of days burdened low-income and African-American Ohioans who are more likely to take advantage of Golden Week and Sunday voting.
District Court Judge Peter C. Economus agreed, saying the shortened schedule violated the U.S. Constitution and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits voting procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, color or membership in an ethnic minority group. He ruled that once Ohio granted a broad scheme of early, in-person voting, state officials could not reduce it in a way that burdened certain groups of voters.