Supreme Court Won't Rescue 'Golden Week' Of Early Voting In Ohio

Ohio Democrats wanted the court to reinstate a six-day period that allowed voters to register and vote at the same time.
Some cutbacks to early voting in Ohio have been subject to a flurry of legal challenges, and the Supreme Court has large
Some cutbacks to early voting in Ohio have been subject to a flurry of legal challenges, and the Supreme Court has largely sided with the state.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday turned away an effort by Ohio Democratic groups that sought to restore a special week that allowed voters to register and vote early on the same day.

In a brief order, the justices denied the groups’ request but did not note where they stood in the dispute. At least five of them are needed to grant an emergency petition.

Without this six-day period, known as “Golden Week,” Ohio voters now have four weeks to vote early, beginning on Oct. 12 ― either in person or via absentee ballot.

State lawmakers eliminated Golden Week in 2014, leading to legal challenges alleging discrimination against minority voters. An early lawsuit couldn’t stop cutbacks for the 2014 election ― and the Supreme Court at the time agreed to let Ohio officials move forward with the shorter early-voting period. 

But following a new round of litigation, a federal judge in May concluded that eliminating Golden Week was an unconstitutional burden on black voters.

“Indeed, it may be more difficult for voters with time, resource, transportation, and childcare restraints to make two separate trips to register and vote, and Golden Week allowed individuals to do both at once,” wrote U.S. District Judge Michael Watson in his ruling.

An appeals court last month reversed that decision, observing that Ohio, even without the benefit of extra days of early voting and same-day registration, was a “national leader” in providing additional opportunities to vote early.

“Ohio continues to provide generous, reasonable, and accessible voting options to all Ohioans,” said the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit. Ohio Democrats contended that the reversal was too close to the formal start of early voting and that it risked creating confusion and long wait times at the polls.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) said in a statement that he hoped the Supreme Court’s move would mark the end of the road for these legal challenges, which he called “wasteful.”

“This much is perfectly clear: Ohio is a place where it is easy to vote and hard to cheat. In fact, with voting now slated to begin in less than a month for the November election, Ohio is one of the easiest states in the nation in which to register and cast your ballot,” Husted said.

With Tuesday’s order, the Supreme Court has so far declined to reverse or put on hold every voting rights ruling that could have an impact on Election Day ― including cases involving North Carolina’s restrictive voting law and a Michigan ban to “straight-ticket” voting.

Unlike the Ohio case, these last two controversies resulted in net losses for Republicans ― underscoring the ideological divide among the justices when it comes to voting rights, as well as the politics surrounding the replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

In a statement, the Ohio Democratic Party suggested as much.

“We’re disappointed in the outcome, but we’re not surprised given the fact that the Supreme Court is hamstrung with only eight justices because of Republican obstructionism,” said David Pepper, the state party chairman.

This story has been updated to include a statement from the Ohio Democratic Party.