A decade after enactment of the 2002 Help America Vote Act, many state legislatures under Republican political leadership have chosen a different course for voters: They offer little help, while imposing a host of restrictions under the claim of fighting “fraud.” But these laws do not stop at the enactment of ID requirements; they include limitations on voter registration, on the information that poll workers may supply to voters looking to locate their correct polling places — and on early voting. An example of these attacks on early voting has occurred in the state of Ohio, and it has resulted in the lawsuit brought in federal district court by Obama for America, the Democratic National Committee and the Ohio Democratic Party. We are challenging the state legislature’s action denying the vast majority of Ohio voters any access to in-person early voting during the last three days before the election. And this action was taken entirely arbitrarily, without justification, unaccountably shutting down this avenue of participation for thousands of voters. This action would be troubling under any circumstances, but it is all the more so in light of the role that early voting has played in Ohio in solving major problems Ohio voters have experienced in the past, highlighted by electoral breakdown in the 2004 presidential election. In that year, the failure of voting machinery, poorly managed congestion at polling places and other problems contributed to long lines for voters — sometimes leading to waits as long as six or seven hours.
Early voting was one of the answers the state devised, and it had, at the time, bipartisan support. Early voting rapidly proved popular with voters and was highly successful in facilitating voting for thousands. And of those many thousands who vote early, many do so within a week of Election Day, the most active period of early voting. In 2010, almost one-third of the early votes were cast within a week of Election Day, well over 90,000 of which were cast within the last three days before Election Day. And these early voters are more likely to be women and seniors, and to have lower incomes, than those who vote on Election Day.
Why would the state legislature cut back on in-person early voting for all Ohioans? Legislative error and carelessness could supply some of the explanation; unfortunately, partisanship may also have played its part, judging from the attacks on early voting by Republican-controlled legislatures around the country. After all, the looming possibility of different deadlines for early voters, and the likelihood that many voters denied early-voting opportunities would effectively be disenfranchised, was brought to the legislature’s attention in sworn testimony, but the legislature ignored it. Whatever its reasons, the Ohio General Assembly forged ahead and took away in-person early voting for most voters over this critical three-day period.