Just weeks before elections that will decide control of the Senate and crucial governors’ races, a cascade of court rulings about voting rules, issued by judges with an increasingly partisan edge, are sowing confusion and changing voting procedures with the potential to affect outcomes in some states. Last week, a day before voting was scheduled to begin in Ohio, the United States Supreme Court split 5 to 4 to uphold a cut in early voting in the state by one week; the five Republican appointees voted in favor and the four Democratic appointees against. Cases from North Carolina and Wisconsin are also before the court, with decisions expected shortly, while others are proceeding in Texas and Arkansas. The legal fights are over laws that Republican-led state governments passed in recent years to more tightly regulate voting, in the name of preventing fraud. Critics argue that the restrictions are really efforts to discourage African-Americans, students and low-income voters, who tend to favor Democrats.
Ohio reduced early voting by a week early this year, including one day of Sunday voting when black churches conduct “souls to the polls” voter drives. An appeals court composed of three Democratic appointees had ruled that the cutbacks violate the Constitution’s equal protection clause and the Voting Rights Act, and proponents went to the Supreme Court. The result, here as elsewhere, has been an increasingly charged environment in which voting rules have been as enmeshed in partisan politics as the races themselves.
“The new voter suppression in the 21st century is all this voter confusion,” said Nina Turner, the Democratic candidate for Ohio secretary of state, an office that administers elections.
Her opponent, the Republican incumbent Jon Husted, said that Ohio still had 28 days of early voting, more than the majority of states, and that only “a few extreme voices on the political left” opposed the one-week cutback.