A federal judge’s decision this morning to allow early voting in Ohio is a big victory for those who think voting should be easier and more accessible. It was also a remarkable decision in purely human terms, showing a deeply compassionate understanding of the lives of the low-income people who have been the most harmed by Republican efforts to put barriers around the ballot box. In February, Ohio Republicans passed a law cutting early voting from 35 to 28 days, and eliminating the week in which residents could register and vote at the same time, known as the “Golden Week.” In blocking that law today, federal District Judge Peter Economus described in detail the people “struggling on the margins of society” who have been the biggest users of early voting and the Golden Week since 2008.
Such individuals are more likely to move frequently and lack access to transportation. Day to day life for such individuals can be chaotic and merely focused on survival. If a voter moves, he or she is required to update his or her voter registration. Lack of transportation means that travelling to the voting location can present its own hardships. For these reasons, the opportunity to register and vote at the same time during Golden Week is more than a mere convenience to poorer individuals and the homeless, it can make the difference between being able to exercise the fundamental right to vote and not being able to do so. Accordingly, the elimination of Golden Week burdens the right to vote.
The judge noted that many of those most affected by the voting cutbacks are African-Americans, whose mean household income in Ohio is $26,039, compared to the state average of $45,400. They benefited greatly from the “Souls to the Polls” initiative run by many black churches after services on Sunday, which saved people the cost of transportation to the polls. New rules from the Ohio secretary of state, however, limited early voting to only one Sunday, and also cut back the number of evening voting hours, which Judge Economus said was discriminatory.