Voting and civil rights advocates today sued in federal court to block a new state law that sliced a week off early voting as well as a secretary-of-state directive limiting voting hours. If the lawsuit is successful, it would again put decisions on setting hours for in-person early voting in the hands of 88 county boards of elections. Many of those four-member boards 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 if they would intervene later at the county level. The suit against the GOP-passed bill was filed in U.S. District Court in Columbus by the voting rights project, the ACLU of Ohio, the League of Women Voters of Ohio, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and several African American churches.
House Bill 238, set to affect in time for the Nov. 4 general election, would kill the so-called “Golden Week,” the first six days of early voting that overlap with the last week of registration. That allows a would-be voter to register and then cast an absentee ballot on the spot that would be later counted once 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 unconstitutionally and disproportionately affect African Americans, the elderly, students, and urban voters who have statistically been more likely to take advantage of early voting. In the 2012 presidential election, 157,000 in-person early votes were cast on the days that would be eliminated by the law and the follow-up directive.