Federal appeals court rejects judge's ruling to restore week of early voting in Ohio

Posted at 2:16 PM, Aug 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-23 14:17:50-04

A federal appeals court on Tuesday rejected a judge's order to restore a week of early voting in swing-state Ohio.

At issue are a series of Republican-backed changes that Democrats allege disproportionately burden black voters and those who lean Democratic. Such policies include the elimination of a week of early voting in which Ohio residents could also register to vote, known as golden week.

Plaintiffs including the state's Democratic Party had claimed the burden on voters outweighs any benefit to the state.

But the state's attorneys argued that the voting changes were minor and that residents have many opportunities to vote. They also noted that the changes have been in place for two general elections.

In a 2-1 decision, a panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled Tuesday that the law that made the cut still allows for "abundant" opportunities to vote.

The ruling comes after the state appealed a decision by U.S. District Judge Michael Watson in May. He sided with Democrats on their golden-week claim, ruling that the cut violates the Voting Rights Act and voters' equal protection rights.

Watson had said statistical and anecdotal evidence presented in the case reflected that black voters use same-day voter registration and early voting options at higher rates than whites. While the court can't predict how African-Americans will turn out in future elections, he said, "It is reasonable to conclude from this evidence that their right to vote will be modestly burdened" by the law.

More than 60,000 people voted during golden week in 2008, while over 80,000 cast ballots during the period in 2012, Watson had noted in his decision.

The appeals court reversed Watson's decision.

The 6th Circuit said that in evaluating the law's burden, "We find that elimination of Golden Week is a small part of what remains, objectively viewed, a generous early voting schedule."

Judge David McKeague wrote the opinion, joined by Judge Richard Allen Griffin. Both were appointed by Republican President George W. Bush.

Judge Jane Branstetter Stranch disagreed. She was appointed by Democratic President Barack Obama.

The state's attorneys said scrapping the days helped alleviate administrative burdens for local elections officials while reducing costs and the potential of fraud.

Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted has said if it was constitutional for lawmakers to expand the voting period, it must also be constitutional for them to change it.