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A federal judge on Tuesday struck down a state law that eliminated “Golden Week,” several days when Ohio voters could both register and cast a ballot.
The 2014 law violates both the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, U.S. District Court Judge Michael Watson wrote in his opinion siding with Democrats who challenged the law.
The state will appeal the ruling, a state attorney general spokesman said. If the ruling stands, Ohio voters will have 35 days to cast a ballot this November instead of 28 and will be able to register to vote and cast a ballot at the same time.
The case has a long history in the Buckeye State, but the current court found a new justification for re-establishing Golden Week:
In 2014, the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the law on behalf of the Ohio chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and League of Women Voters and several African-American churches. A federal district court judge struck down the law, but the state was granted a stay.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted and Statehouse Republicans argued that Ohio provides 28 days of absentee voting by mail and in-person, making it one of the most expansive voting systems in the country.
The court agreed with the ACLU’s argument that eliminating Golden Week resulted in less opportunity for African Americans to participate in the political process than other voters. Census surveys and anecdotal evidence showed African American voters were more likely than white voters to cast ballots early and in-person.
Watson, a George W. Bush appointee, cited that case in his opinion. The Ohio Democratic Party and Montgomery and Cuyahoga county parties took over the lawsuit, initially filed last year by the Ohio Organizing Collaborative.
Lost in much of this discussion was the fact that all of the other challenges to Ohio law were rejected:
The lawsuit challenged several election laws passed by the GOP-controlled General Assembly. Watson upheld all other laws, which Husted praised in a statement released Tuesday afternoon.
“While I am pleased the court has upheld existing law on nearly every issue, it is disappointing that a federal judge would again change the election rules after the current laws were upheld in the same federal district court by a settlement agreement we reached with the NAACP and the ACLU,” Husted said. [Husted also said he would consult with legislative leaders before deciding on an appeal. though late yesterday the state indicated it would appeal -ed.]
The Golden Week fight has very strong partisan overtones, despite election officials’ collective position that it is unnecessary:
Eliminating Golden Week had the support of the bipartisan Ohio Association of Election Officials, but was opposed by Democrats. Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper called the ruling an enormous win for Ohio voters. About 60,000 voters cast ballots during Golden Week in 2008 and 80,000 voters cast ballots during that time in 2012.
UC-Irvine and Election Law Blog’s Rick Hasen has a lengthy but must-read post on the decision and what it means given the current state of the U.S. Supreme Court; it’s too long and too detailed for me to adequately summarize – so you should go read it now.
Obviously, this is a big deal – not just because Ohio is such a key state, but also because of the issues involved and because of the potential for key rulings by federal appellate courts (and maybe even the eight-member SCOTUS).
Fasten your seatbelts – and stay tuned …