Ohio Sued by Black Groups, Churches Over Early-Voting Cut

An Ohio law reducing opportunities to cast early election ballots was challenged by black and women’s groups in a lawsuit that further expands nationwide litigation over access to the polls.

The 2014 law, which eliminates the first week of early voting and all balloting on Sundays and in the evenings, complicates the process for low-income workers who have greater difficulty arranging child-care, transportation and time off work, the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the organizations, said today in a statement.

“Politicians who tamper with people’s fundamental right to vote are being put on notice that they are not going to get away with it,” Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s voting rights project, said in the statement.

Bids to restrict early voting and require voter identification at the polls were renewed following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that threw out the 1965 Voting Rights Act’s formula for determining which states must get federal approval before changing election rules. Critics argue the legislation favors Republicans by hindering access to polls by workers, minorities and immigrants who tend to favor Democrats.

Suits over early voting are also pending in North Carolina, while a federal judge in Milwaukee two days ago voided Wisconsin’s photo-identification requirement for voting. A state court judge in Pennsylvania struck down a similar law in January. Photo-ID cases have also been filed in Texas and Arkansas.

Early voting on Sundays is popular with black church groups that often provide bus transportation to polling places to encourage votes, the ACLU said in its lawsuit over early voting in Ohio.

Lawyers in the office of Ohio’s attorney general, Mike DeWine, who is named in the lawsuit, are reviewing the complaint, Lisa Peterson Hackley, his spokeswoman, said by phone. She declined to comment further.

“The ACLU is targeting the wrong state because by every objective measure Ohio has expansive opportunities to vote,” Matt McClellan, spokesman for Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, who was also sued, said in a statement. The law treats all voters equally and “gives Ohioans an entire month to cast ballots.”

Columbus Court

The suit was filed today in federal court in Columbus by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the League of Women Voters of Ohio and several African-American churches.

Ohio implemented weeks of early voting after the state’s “disastrous” 2004 election that left people waiting in long lines for hours, Ho said.

“The burden is on them to explain why we should get rid of something that’s been working well for years,” Ho said.

Two years ago, President Barack Obama’s campaign organization sued Ohio over changes to the state’s early-voting laws, winning a court order barring it from limiting balloting on the final weekend before the general election to members of the U.S. armed forces.

There’s a “temptation for some elected officials to try to game the system and change the rules to stay in power as long as possible,” Ho said of the Ohio law in a phone interview. “The demographics of who uses early voting are not the demographics they can gain support from, so they try to cut off the means of access that those groups favor.”

The case is Ohio State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. Jon Husted. 2:14-cv-00404. U.S. District Court Southern District of Ohio (Columbus).

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