COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A federal appeals court on Wednesday upheld an order from an Ohio judge that expands the swing state’s voting schedule this fall.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel concluded that none of the interests put forward by the state’s attorneys sufficiently justified the burden found to be placed on certain voters by two election-related measures.
The 3-0 decision comes after a federal judge temporarily blocked an Ohio law trimming early voting and ordered the state’s elections chief to set additional times, including evening hours. The ruling moved the start of early voting to Sept. 30 instead of Oct. 7.
U.S. District Judge Peter Economus also barred Secretary of State Jon Husted from preventing local elections boards from adopting additional early voting hours beyond his order.
The state appealed the decision to the federal appeals court in Cincinnati, arguing that Ohio’s early voting schedule exceeds most states and does not burden voters.
Attorneys for Ohio said the lower court must be overturned because its decision set up a framework that “if accepted, would leave one to wonder whether many States with far fewer early-voting options have breached the Equal Protection Clause.”
Several Black churches and the state’s chapters of the NAACP and the League of Women Voters brought the lawsuit, which challenges two early voting measures.
One is a directive from Husted that established uniform early voting times and restricted weekend and evening hours. Another is a GOP-backed state law that eliminates so-called golden week, when people could both register to vote and cast ballots. Without those days, early voting would typically start 28 or 29 days before Election Day instead of the prior 35-day window.
Ohioans can vote absentee by mail or in person.
The plaintiffs claimed in their lawsuit that the new rules would make it difficult for residents to vote and disproportionately affect low-income and Black voters, who, the groups say, are more likely to use the weekend and evening hours to vote early in elections. The Black churches in the lawsuit say their parishioners have come to rely on rides they provide to the polls after Sunday services to vote early.
On Sept. 4, Economus sided with the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction and said the measures were unconstitutional and in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He characterized the measures’ burden on voting as “significant although not severe.”