Voting rights advocates in Ohio are outraged as Secretary of State John Husted has decided to end the evening and weekend voting in Cuyahoga County that have benefitted voters there in four of the past five years. He broke a tie vote after county election board members deadlocked along party lines about whether to maintain extended voting hours. Polls will now be open on weekdays only, from 8:30 a.m. until just 4:30 p.m.
Husted claims that this new policy ensures equal protections for all citizens, since not every Ohio county has offered extended voting hours. However, as Christine Link, executive director of the ACLU of Ohio puts it, using this logic, "[equal protection] will become a race to the bottom." Since the secretary has the ability to break tie votes on election boards, his stance may encourage board members in other counties who have voter suppression agendas to force votes that will strip Ohioans of even more opportunities to vote.
State Senator Nina Turner has estimated that, along with the termination of voting in the three days before the election, this recent reduction in voting hours could keep 29,000 people from the polls. This will have a particularly significant impact among women, the elderly, and those with lower incomes and education levels. People with a disability or illness will also suffer from being deprived of voting opportunities, as 10 percent of early voters in 2010 reported voting early for one of these reasons. Democratic lawmakers have protested that, since these groups tend to favor Democrats, they will be at a disadvantage in a critical swing state come November.
Senator Turner sees a historical precedent for this voter suppression with grave implications:
History is repeating itself in a very ugly way. Jim Crow has been resurrected. He is making repeat performances in portions of the South and he has packed his bags and is headed north.
The new policy will also end GOTV efforts that have been successful in the past, including when supporters of our African American Ministers Leadership Council (AAMLC) transported voters to the Board of Elections on weekends to vote early.
Supporters of AAMLC, along with other voting rights advocates, are already planning to take state officials to court over the issue and are contacting the Secretary of State to send a message that they will not tolerate his voter suppression tactics.
For more information, check out The Right to Vote under Attack: The Campaign to Keep Millions of Americans from the Ballot Box, a Right Wing Watch: In Focus report by PFAW Foundation.