The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a crushing ruling on Tuesday for Ohio’s Democratic Party, which has been fighting to restore early voting days in the crucial swing state ahead of this November’s election.
A federal district court ordered the state in May to restore the early voting days eliminated over the last few years by the Republican-controlled legislature, calling the cuts “unconstitutional” and “unenforceable.” Tuesday’s 2–1 appellate court ruling overturns that decision, and will allow Ohio to cut what is known as “Golden Week” — the time when residents can register and vote on the same day.
The two judges on the panel who ruled for Ohio’s early voting cuts — both George W. Bush appointees — said they did so because courts should give deference to states in deciding how to run their elections instead of being “micromanagers.” They argued that even without Golden Week, Ohio’s early voting policy is “really quite generous,” and said the cuts pose “no such infringement” on the “fundamental right to vote.”
Judge Jane Branstetter Stranch dissented, calling her colleagues’ fears of micromanaging “unfounded and antiquated.” Stranch, who was appointed by President Obama, said that voting is such a basic right that it deserves extra attention from the courts. The early voting cut, she argued, “imposes a disproportionate burden on African Americans” and is “linked to social and historical conditions of discrimination that diminish the ability of African Americans to participate in the political process.”
Stranch referenced the ample evidence presented to the lower court that Golden Week is disproportionately used by the state’s African American voters, and its elimination “results in less opportunity for African Americans to participate in the political process than other voters.” Tens of thousands of people voted during “Golden Week” in 2012 alone, more than enough to sway an election in the tightly contested swing state.
The District Court judge said Ohio’s cuts “will likely result in longer lines at the polls, thereby increasing the burdens for those who must wait in those lines and deterring voting.” Voting lines multiple hours long has been a particular problem in recent Ohio elections, and the cuts to early voting could worsen the situation.
The Ohio Democratic Party can ask the full 6th Circuit court to hear the case, or appeal it to the U.S. Supreme Court, but time is running out for the state to create an early voting plan before the general election.