Friday, August 31, 2012

Federal Judge restores Ohio early voting for all

Via Rick Hasen at Election Law Blog, U.S District Court Judge Judge Peter Economus has ruled for Obama for America and granted a preliminary injunction enjoining Ohio from enforcing a new Republican law barring early voting on the weekend before election day.

The law in question would only allow early voting for military service members on the rational that they are subject to deployment without notice.  The law did not mandate that election boards provide military voters an opportunity to vote early but instead left it to local election boards. Also, the elections boards could decide to allow early voting for all voters or just military voters.  Republicans control the election boards throughout the state so they were voting to allow early voting for military voters in every county but only allowing non-military voters to vote early in Republican counties.

Judge Economus held that taking away early voting for all voters except (possibly) the military voters violated the equal protection clause and ordered early voting restored for all eligible Ohio voters:
From the onset of this litigation, Defendants have pointed to special concerns for the military—concerns all parties share—and the military’s need to maintain additional access to in-person early voting. But for UOCAVA voters, what is left is, potentially, one day: Monday. Defendants have presented no evidence to sustain the inference that in-person early voting on Monday—one day—will burden county boards of elections to the extent that the injury to Plaintiffs is justified. Moreover, Defendants undercut the virtue of their support of military voters by failing to protect any significant measure of UOCAVA voting. Unless a serviceperson is “suddenly deployed” at exactly the right time—enabling in-person voting on Monday—he or she will likely be unable to vote, depending on the local elections board’s “discretion.” That the State cannot justify its interest in foreclosing Ohio voters for one day emphasizes the arbitrary nature of its action.

Finally, this Court notes that restoring in-person early voting to all Ohio voters through the Monday before Election Day does not deprive UOCAVA voters from early voting. Instead, and more importantly, it places all Ohio voters on equal standing. The only hindrance to UOCAVA early voting is the Secretary of State’s failure to set uniform hours at elections boards during the last three days before Election Day. On balance, the right of Ohio voters to vote in person during the last three days prior to Election Day—a right previously conferred to all voters by the State—outweighs the State’s interest in setting the 6 p.m. Friday deadline. The burden on Ohio voters’ right to participate in the national and statewide election is great, as evidenced by the statistical analysis offered by Plaintiffs and not disputed by Defendants. Moreover, the State fails to articulate a precise, compelling interest in establishing the 6 p.m. Friday deadline as applied to non-UOCAVA voters and has failed to evidence any commitment to the “exception” it rhetorically extended to UOCAVA voters. Therefore, the State’s interests are insufficiently weighty to justify the injury to Plaintiffs. See Anderson v. Celebrezze, 460 U.S. 780, 798 (1983). The issue here is not the right to absentee voting, which, as the Supreme Court has already clarified, is not a “fundamental right.” McDonald v. Bd. of Election Commissioners, 394 U.S. 802, 807 (1969). The issue presented is the State’s redefinition of in-person early voting and the resultant restriction of the right of Ohio voters to cast their votes in person through the Monday before Election Day. This Court stresses that where the State has authorized in-person early voting through the Monday before Election Day for all voters, “the State may not, by later arbitrary and disparate treatment, value one person’s vote over that of another.” Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98, 104-05 (2000). Here, that is precisely what the State has done.
You can read the opinion here.

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