Finding No Racial Discrimination, Appeals Court OKs Ohio's Shortened Early Voting Window

Ohio's early voting law does not discriminate against black voters, court says.

— -- A federal appeals court reinstated a law that shortens Ohio’s early voting period, finding the measure fell short of legal discrimination by placing a “minimal burden” on the battleground state’s African-American voters.

At issue was a 2014 Republican-backed law that reduced the period of early voting days from 35 to 29. By doing so, it eliminated the so-called “Golden Week,” six overlapping days of voter registration and early voting when black voters have been more likely than whites to cast same-day ballots.

The Ohio Democratic Party, joined by several other plaintiffs, alleged the measure would discriminate against black voters, who cast five times more Golden Week votes than whites in 2012, and three-and-a-half times more in 2008.

A lower court sided with the Democratic groups, finding that limiting voting options would disproportionately harm black voters who are less likely to be able to take time off work, find childcare and secure transportation to the polls.

But the 2-1 opinion today by a Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals panel in Cincinnati reversed the lower court’s decision.

“We find that elimination of Golden Week is a small part of what remains, objectively viewed, a generous early voting schedule,” wrote Judge David McKeague for the majority. “The notion that [the law’s] elimination of same day registration disparately imposes anything more than a ‘minimal’ burden on some African Americans ignores the abundant and convenient alternatives that remain for all Ohioans who wish to vote.”

The Ohio Democratic Party expressed disappointment with the Circuit Court panel’s decision and said it would consider its options for seeing Golden Week restored.

“All Ohioans have a fundamental right to vote,” the group said in a statement. “The decision today is a reminder that we all need to exercise that right this fall and cast our ballot for candidates who will protect and expand the right to vote, not restrict it.”

Mark Owens, chairman of Montgomery County Democratic Party, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said the law underpinning the legal dispute shows that Republicans have resorted to obstructing Ohio’s minority voters.

“The believe that they cannot get the minority vote so they want to put up roadblocks in order for them to come into the voting booth,” Owens said. “Republicans are making laws in their interest, rather than the interest of fairness in elections.”