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Ohio's 'Golden Week' gone again, after federal court sides with secretary of state

by Marc kovac | Capital Bureau Chief Published: August 24, 2016 12:01 PM

Columbus -- A federal appeals court has reversed an earlier decision, undoing the reinstatement of Ohio's "Golden Week" and blocking eligible residents from registering to vote and casting ballots on the same day.

The 2-1 decision Aug. 23 from a trio of Sixth Circuit judges sided with Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted, calling Ohio "a national leader when it comes to early voting opportunities."

Judge David W. McKeague, writing for the majority, noted that the legislation that eliminated Golden Week two years ago still afforded "abundant and convenient opportunities for all Ohioans to exercise their right to vote" and was "well within the constitutionally granted prerogative and authority of the Ohio Legislature to regulate state election processes."

Husted praised the decision, saying in a released statement, "Ohio offers a generous number of days, hours and ways to vote -- making us one of the easiest states in which to cast a ballot. This issue has been dragged through the courts by political activists twice over the course of several years, and both times, it has ended with the same result: Ohio's laws are fair and constitutional."

He added, "I hope the Democrats will end their wasteful lawsuits so we can all move forward with this election."

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State Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D-Kent) said in a released statement that she was disappointed with the decision.

"The court ignored the intensive fact-finding done by District Court Judge Watson and applied a test that would appear to allow voting restrictions straight out of the 1950s," she said. "The facts uncovered by the lower court remain: There was no sufficient justification to eliminate the first week of early voting and the burden falls disproportionately on Ohio's minority voters."

The legislation in question, SB 238, called for early, in-person voting to begin the day after voter registration ended, reducing the absentee voting period by one week. It was signed in to law in early 2014 and went into effect later that year.

Proponents said the change was needed to give county election officials time to verify voters' eligibility before they cast ballots and to reduce potential voter fraud.

But opponents, including Democratic lawmakers, called it a further attempt to limit early voting and make it harder for eligible resident to cast ballots. The Ohio Democratic Party and others subsequently filed suit.

In May, U.S. District Court Judge Michael H. Watson reinstated Golden Week, ruling that the legislation eliminating the extra week of early voting hurt black voters in particular and was unconstitutional.

But the appeals court reversed that decision Aug. 23, ruling that Ohio "continues to provide generous, reasonable and accessible voting options to all Ohioans."

According to the majority decision, "The issue is not whether some voter somewhere would benefit from six additional days of early voting or from the opportunity to register and vote at the same time. Rather, the issue is whether the challenged law results in a cognizable injury under the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act. We conclude that it does not."

Judge Jane Branstetter Stranch dissented, concluding in a separate opinion, "The charge that this appeal -- and apparently many others -- intrude upon the right of the states to run their own election process is both unfounded and antiquated. Our American society and legal system now recognize that appropriate scrutiny is essential to protection of the fundamental right to vote. The scrutiny applied by the district court was proper and in accord with governing precedent."

Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.


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