The conservative Supreme Court continued to disenfranchise the people and curb their access to the ballot box with its 5-4 decision that cleared the way Monday for Ohio to restrict early voting in the state, on the eve of the day it was to start.
The court granted the state’s request to stay decisions of lower courts that threw out the state’s new plan, passed by the Republican-led legislature. But the court’s four liberal justices said they would have stayed out of the case and left those decisions in place.
Ohio argued that the new plan–reducing from 35 to 28 the number of days voters could cast an early ballot–could not be seen as violating the rights of minority voters.
“Ohio offers more early-voting options than 41 other states and the District of Columbia,” its petition to the court said.
But a group of challengers led by the ACLU and NAACP said there was no reason for Ohio to reduce early voting except to discourage turnout.
The lower court rulings disallowing the new plan “does nothing more than maintain the same early voting rules that have governed the last four general elections in Ohio, and which voters are currently expecting,” the groups told the Supreme Court.
One key element eliminated by the legislature is a so-called golden week, when people may register to vote and cast ballots. The new plan also eliminated voting on the Sunday before the election, which was heavily used by minority voters.
This is a stunning blow to democracy. Early voting opportunities, especially Sunday voting where churches would organize Souls to the Polls drives and members would after the service, have tended to favor people of color and low-income voters i.e., people who may not be able to take off work on a Tuesday to vote.
All eyes have been on Ohio for the past few elections because Ohio residents have had to endure standing in long lines for hours on Election Day just so they could cast a vote. Cutting down early voting will surely create more problems than it will solve. But let’s not forget that Ohio, a crucial swing state, narrowly went blue in both the 2008 and 2012 elections, thus handing Barack Obama its much-needed electoral votes.
If there’s a bright spot in this, it’s that state Senator and African-American woman, Nina Turner has mounted an impressive campaign to become Ohio’s Secretary of State and oust the Republican incumbent. Her election would be crucial in reversing some of these partisan decisions. As the 2014 midterm elections quickly approach, the decision to restrict voting rights in Ohio will have a serious impact on what happens next in the state and who will get elected to represent the people.
Diana Veiga is a Spelman woman, a DC resident, and a freelance writer. Of course, she’s also on Twitter.