Federal Appeals Court Nixes Ohio's 'Golden Week' for Early Voting

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Aug. 23 upheld state laws passed last year ending a week of opportunities before elections when voters could register and vote the same day, saying Ohio’s voting opportunities are already generous.

Want to register and vote the same day in Ohio? You’ll have to bug state lawmakers about it, because a federal court won’t step in to undo laws passed by Republicans in the State House ending the state’s hotly contested “Golden Week.

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals on Aug. 23 upheld state laws passed last year ending a week of opportunities before elections when voters could register and vote the same day, saying Ohio’s voting opportunities are already generous and that it shouldn’t intervene in laws passed by elected representatives.

That ruling overturns an earlier federal court decision and represents a defeat for voting rights advocates and the state Democratic Party, who said the voting hours rollback disproportionately affected minority and low-income voters. The suit against Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted and Attorney General Mike DeWine was filed by various state and local Democratic Party organizations.

Proper deference to state legislative authority requires that Ohio’s election process be allowed to proceed unhindered by the federal courts," the majority opinion in the 2-1 ruling reads.

Judges David McKeague and Richard Allen Griffin, both President George W. Bush, appointees, formed the majority. Judge Jane Branstetter Stranch, appointed by President Barack Obama, dissented.

"I do not think that it is federal intrusion or micromanaging to evaluate election procedures to determine if discrimination lurks in an obvious rule or in a subtle detail," Stranch said in her dissenting opinion.

The court’s decision overturns a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Michael Watson, who last spring said the Ohio law violated the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution.

More than 80,000 people voted during Golden Week in the 2012 election, and data shows that black voters used the opportunity at a higher rate than whites did.

It is reasonable to conclude from this evidence that their right to vote will be modestly burdened" by the law, Watson wrote in his ruling.

The appeals court argued that Ohio’s 29 early voting days before the election are “generous” and that the state has among the highest number of early voting days in the nation even without Golden Week. State officials say getting rid of the early voting opportunity makes elections more efficient for local officials and cuts down on voter fraud, though few cases of such fraud have been documented in Ohio.

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