This was supposed to be “Golden Week” in Ohio, a prime window one month from the midterm election when the state’s residents could both register to vote and cast their ballots at the same time. In theory, political participation doesn’t get much easier than that. Monday, however, the Supreme Court halted the start of the state’s early voting in another 5-4 order along ideological lines that civil rights advocates fear will harm minority and poor voters in particular. The decision is a win for Republican officials in Ohio who had moved to curtail the state’s early voting with a law passed in February. Civil-rights groups including the ACLU and the NAACP had sued the state to block the law, and the Supreme Court’s order on Monday sets aside a lower-court ruling in their favor. Now, as a result, voting in Ohio that was supposed to start today won’t begin until Oct. 7. And Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted, reacting swiftly to the Supreme Court order, has also rolled back evening hours and a day of Sunday voting that had been required by the earlier court decision.
By Husted’s logic, Ohio still remains one of the states with the most expansive early-voting provisions. So why are voting-rights advocates still so concerned? The changes target the very times — evenings, Sundays and well in advance of Election Day — when minorities and the poor (groups more likely to lean Democratic) are often able to vote. These are the times when people who can’t leave work during the day may cast ballots. They’re the times when churches in black communities lead Sunday “souls to the polls” voting drives.
In 2012, more than 157,000 Ohio voters cast their ballots during the days that have now been eliminated. Daniel Smith, a political scientist at the University of Florida, argued in an analysis conducted in support of suit against the state that blacks have been disproportionately likely to use early balloting in the state, and to vote early on the days that have now been canceled (data in other states suggest the same).