By THE EDITORIAL BOARD (New York Times) – 6.09.14
Someday, after they figure out how to appeal to a broader swath of the electorate, Republicans will probably be embarrassed by how much time they have spent making it harder for Americans to vote. For now, though, the beat just goes on. In a misguided effort to hold on to power despite an ever-shrinking base of older white voters, Republican lawmakers around the country continue to impose all sorts of barriers to the ballot box.
One of the most egregious examples is happening in Ohio, a critical swing state in presidential elections and the scene of many recent disenfranchisement attempts.
In February, state legislators quickly pushed through a law removing the first week of Ohio’s 35-day early-voting period — which was also the only week that permitted same-day registration. Days later, Ohio’s secretary of state, Jon Husted, issued a directive further cutting back on early voting by eliminating voting during evening hours, on Sundays, and on the Monday before Election Day. Previously, county election boards had the power to set polling hours based on local needs, which vary widely — one rural county has just 13,000 residents, while more than 1.2 million live in Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland.
The effect of the cuts will be felt especially by vulnerable populations in the bigger cities, who also tend to vote Democratic. Minority citizens vote early at twice the rate of whites, while lower-income and less-educated voters often cast ballots on weekends and evenings because they are often unable to take time off work. During the 2012 presidential election, 157,000 Ohioans — making up more than a quarter of all early in-person voters — voted during the days and hours that have now been cut, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which last month sued the state over the new restrictions.
What possible explanation is there for limiting citizens’ opportunities to vote? Mr. Husted has said he wants to make it “easy to vote and hard to cheat,” although it is not clear how his directive does either. Officials also claim the changes will improve “administrative efficiency” and statewide uniformity in voting procedures. But a 2012 federal appeals court ruling striking down a similar directive, also issued by Mr. Husted, found no evidence that local election boards were struggling to cope with early voting.
To the contrary, Ohio extended its early-voting period precisely because of the mess of the 2004 presidential election, when voters in urban areas waited for hours in line to vote on Election Day. But when Ohio voters chose Barack Obama in 2008, Republican lawmakers panicked. None would admit that race was a factor in limiting early voting, but, in an accidental moment of honesty, one member of the Franklin County Board of Elections told a reporter in 2012, “I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban — read, African-American — voter-turnout machine.”
The A.C.L.U. lawsuit, filed on behalf of the local chapters of the N.A.A.C.P. and the League of Women Voters, argues that both the new law and the directive violate the equal protection clause and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination in voting rules and has become the primary legal vehicle for protecting voting rights. The problem isn’t uniformity itself, which is a reasonable way of reducing voter confusion. But uniformity can be achieved without making voting harder for tens of thousands of Ohioans.