A federal judge on Friday sided with hopeful voters in Ohio by saying that the state's argument against early in-person voting in the state was insufficient.
“On balance, the right of Ohio voters to vote in person during the last three days prior to Election Day — a right previously conferred to all voters by the state — outweighs the state’s interest in setting the 6 p.m. Friday deadline,” US District Judge Peter Economus wrote in his decision. “The burden on Ohio voters’ right to participate in the national and statewide election is great, as evidenced by the statistical analysis offered by plaintiffs and not disputed by defendants.”
Ohio—a perennial battleground state in national elections—passed a law in 2005 allowing in-person voting during the weekend ahead of election day. The Republican-controlled state government this year, however, attempted to cut off early balloting (carving out an exception for members of the military) claiming that such a move would prevent fraud and provide election workers more time to prepare.
Economus granted a preliminary injunction against the state, stating that lawyers for Ohio's Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted did not "articulate a precise compelling interest" for the rule changes.
"In-person early voting is restored on the three days immediately preceding Election Day for all eligible Ohio voters," Economus' ruling stated. "This court anticipates that defendant Secretary of State will direct all Ohio elections boards to maintain a specific, consistent schedule on those three days."
"There is no definitive evidence before the court that elections boards will be tremendously burdened," he wrote. "Certainly, the public interest is served by restoring in-person early voting to all voters."
According to the Washington Post: "Democrats said 93,000 people voted on the weekend before the 2008 election, and several studies have shown that the elderly, the poor and minorities are more likely to take advantage of voting opportunities offered outside normal business hours."
Voting rights advocates celebrated the decision and called for even more poll access reforms to expand voting turnout.
“The Court's decision is another step forward in guaranteeing Ohioans have fair and free access to early voting,” said Mike Brickner, director of communications and public policy. “Secretary Husted should now ensure that Boards of Elections are open weekends throughout the early voting period in order to provide the greatest level of flexibility and accessibility to all voters.”
“Election officials are charged with serving voters, and I can think of no greater service than expanding early voting opportunities for every Ohioan,” said Brickner. “Providing expanded hours will give voters more options to decide when they wish to cast their ballot, help those voters with pressing schedules or other special needs, and will ease the influx of voters on Election Day.”
“While politicians have disagreed about many things with early voting, one issue everyone should recognize is that it is extremely popular with voters,” Brickner added. “In the six years since no-fault absentee voting was enacted in Ohio, early voting has become more popular and is quickly becoming the future of elections. The sooner politicians embrace the future, the sooner the people will reap the rewards.”
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