Ohio has introduced a new tactic in their broader attempts to make it even harder for Democratic voters to get to the polls this year. Early voting stations in Ohio’s heavily Democratic counties will only be open between 8 am and 5 pm, while Republican counties have expanded their hours to allow voting on nights and weekends.
This rule is the latest in a broader attack on voting rights in Ohio, which often comes down to a tiny margin of votes. Ohio Republicans are currently ensconced in a legal battle with the Obama campaign over another new rule that would limit early voting in the three day period before the election exclusively to military families. Mitt Romney falsely claims Obama’s lawsuit is meant to take away voting rights from military families, when in fact he is simply trying to restore voting rights to all Ohio residents. Early voting was introduced to mitigate Ohio’s notoriously chaotic elections, in which thousands of votes are tossed due to clerical errors and bureaucratic confusion.
Starting October 1st, voters in Democrat-leaning urban centers including Cleveland, Columbus, Akron and Toledo will now only be allowed to vote between 8 am and 5 pm on weekdays, when the majority of people are at work. The board of elections in these counties, which are split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, was gridlocked over a Democratic effort to expand hours. The Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted stepped in to deny expanded hours in these counties. But Republican-heavy counties have actually expanded early voting hours on nights and weekends, when most people have time to go to the polls. The Nation reports:
According to the Board of Elections, 48% of early voters in Franklin County voted early on nights or weekends, which Republicans have curtailed. The number who voted on nights or weekends was nearly 50% in Cuyahoga County.
“I cannot create unequal access from one county board to another, and I must also keep in mind resources available to each county,” Husted said in explaining his decision to deny expanded early voting hours in heavily Democratic counties. Yet in solidly Republican counties like Warren and Butler, GOP election commissioners have approved expanded early voting hours on nights and weekends.
Besides historically favoring Democrats, these urban centers comprise Ohio’s most populous and diverse counties. 28 percent of Cuyahoga County is African American, as is 20 percent of Franklin County. President Obama won the African American vote by 95 points in Ohio.
Voters in these cities already have to surmount many challenges to get their votes counted. A recent study by the Cincinnati Enquirer found urban counties are particularly vulnerable to the clerical errors that lead to thousands of discarded ballots. An investigation into Ohio’s chaotic 2004 election by the Government Accounting Office confirmed Democratic districts’ complaints of a shortage of voting machines, along with malfunctioning equipment that incorrectly registered the voter’s choice. George W. Bush narrowly won the state, putting him over the top for a second term.
This post has been updated to reflect a change to the original report on Franklin County voters, which erroneously found 82 percent of Franklin County early voters voted on nights and weekends. In fact, 48 percent of early voters voted on nights and weekends.