U.S. Supreme Court leaves Ohio voting restrictions in place

By Lawrence Hurley
September 13, 2016

Voters cast their ballots at Legend Elementary School during the U.S. presidential election in Newark, Ohio November 6, 2012. REUTERS/Matt Sullivan

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to reinstate for the Nov. 8 general election Ohio's so-called Golden Week voting procedures, when people could register and cast ballots in the same week, that had been abolished by a Republican-backed law.

Rejecting a request by Ohio Democrats, the high court let stand an August ruling by the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld the 2014 law that imposed new restrictions on when people could register to vote and cast ballots.

The law was one of numerous passed in recent years in Republican-governed states that Democrats and civil rights activists have said were intended to make it more difficult for voters including African-Americans, Hispanics and others who tend to back Democratic candidates to cast ballots.

"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," Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, said in a statement.

The appeals court had reversed a May ruling by a U.S. district judge who blocked the law and found that it violated voters' rights.

The Supreme Court's brief order did not note any dissenting votes on the eight-member court, which is evenly divided between liberals and conservatives.

Ohio's Republican-controlled legislature abolished Golden Week and shortened early voting to 29 days from 35 days, which critics said directly limited opportunities for minority voters to participate in elections. Ohio often is a pivotal state in U.S. presidential elections.

Other state laws have required specific forms of photo identification to cast ballots, cut early voting periods and made it more difficult to restore voting rights to people with past criminal convictions.

Golden Week was introduced in a bid to make it easier for people to vote in Ohio after lengthy lines at polling locations marred the 2004 election. In 2008, 60,000 people voted during the Golden Week period in Ohio and 80,000 did so in 2012.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People had challenged the law that erased Golden Week.

In 2014, in an earlier round of litigation over the law, the high court voted 5-4 to allow it to go into effect for that year's election.

The case is one of several voting disputes being litigated ahead of the November election and is the third application for emergency action to reach the Supreme Court in recent weeks from three different states. The justices have rejected all three.

On Aug. 31, the court rejected a bid by North Carolina to reinstate several voting restrictions, including a requirement that people show identification at the polls.

Last Friday, the court rejected an effort by Michigan to reinstate a ban on "straight ticket" voting, the practice of using one mark to vote for all candidates from one party.