6th Circuit Allows Law Upholding Integrity of Elections in Ohio to Remain in Effect

Today, the 6th Circuit reversed a district court decision that had struck down Ohio's reduction in its early voting period from 35 days to 29 days, still a very long period:

The left-wing groups bringing the challenge claimed that Ohio was violating the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and violating the Constitution when it reduced its early voting period from 35 to 29 days. The change was part of Ohio’s attempt to reduce the chaos that had led to voter fraud in the 2008 election. At least two people had pled guilty to voting in Ohio illegally because they resided elsewhere.

The Sixth Circuit rejected the attack as a far-reaching application of the Voting Rights Act that would result in judges “micromanaging” state election rules, in the name of unfounded claims of discrimination. 

The court wisely recognized that the challengers and the district court had created a rule that was remarkable and unrealistic (emphasis added):

Ohio is a national leader when it comes to early voting opportunities. The state election regulation at issue allows early in-person voting for 29 days before Election Day. This is really quite generous. The law is facially neutral; it offers early voting to everyone. The Constitution does not require any opportunities for early voting and as many as thirteen states offer just one day for voting: Election Day. Moreover, the subject regulation is the product of a bipartisan recommendation, as amended pursuant to a subsequent litigation settlement. It is the product of collaborative processes, not unilateral overreaching by the political party that happened to be in power. Yet, plaintiffs complain that allowance of 29 days of early voting does not suffice under federal law. They insist that Ohio’s prior accommodation—35 days of early voting, which also created a six-day “Golden Week” opportunity for same-day registration and voting—established a federal floor that Ohio may add to but never subtract from. This is an astonishing proposition.  

Nearly a third of the states offer no early voting. Adopting plaintiffs’ theory of disenfranchisement would create a “one-way ratchet” that would discourage states from ever increasing early voting opportunities, lest they be prohibited by federal courts from later modifying their election procedures in response to changing circumstances. Further, while the challenged regulation may slightly diminish the convenience of registration and voting, it applies even-handedly to all voters, and, despite the change, Ohio continues to provide generous, reasonable, and accessible voting options to all Ohioans. The issue is not whether some voter somewhere would benefit from six additional days of early voting or from the opportunity to register and vote at the same time. Rather, the issue is whether the challenged law results in a cognizable injury under the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act. We conclude that it does not.

We will discuss this important decision more in the coming weeks, but it is refreshing to see a court properly applying constitutional standards and the Voting Rights Act and recognizing the realities that states face in administering and protecting their elections, instead of buying the extra-legal narrative presented by liberal advocacy organizations.