Voting Fight Continues in Ohio

Commentary by Brian Davis

The US Supreme Court blocked Golden Week in Ohio by a 5-4 decision along conservative and liberal lines.  This will also limit the hours that Ohio citizens can vote.  Homeless people often do not have any identification and certainly not ID to match their current residence.  This also provides confusion at the polling place.  Many advocates in the community were all set to provide vans to every shelter and begin to transport people to the Board of Elections.  We will have mostly daytime hours to vote early or the option of voting by mail. 

State officials claim that we have more opportunity to vote than any of the surrounding states and better than 41 other states.  But homeless people do not have the opportunity to vote in one of the nine states that have same day registration. We have to vote in Ohio and hundreds of thousands voted during Golden Week in the 2008 and 2012 elections or on the weekend before the November Election Day.  We have for the past 8 years had Golden Week in Ohio and there were no issues or allegations of fraud.  Our ability to vote has decreased in Ohio with the Supreme Court intervening and reducing homeless people’s access to voting at the last minute.  This is horrible for democracy in Ohio to restrict access to the voting booth, and horrible that the ability to vote when you want to vote has become so political.

It follows the great decision earlier in the summer by Federal Judge Peter Economus to open up early voting including the preservation of Golden Week.  The Federal Appeals Court refused to intervene and left it to the Supreme Court.   The NAACP and League of Women Voters' lawyers successfully made the case that this is just an extension of the 2012 early voting case to get Judge Economus to decide on the case.   There was the potential for another fight at the local level over hours with the Secretary of State breaking the tie.  The Supreme Court completely strips the local boards ability to act independently on serving their voters.  They will have to figure out how to stuff hundreds of thousands of voters into the small space of their offices for the same hours that small rural counties have to allow their voters to cast a ballot.

The judge forcefully said that the Secretary of State should not block local expansions of voting hours, but he has a vote. Judge Economus really went after the State of Ohio for limiting voting.  Economus's decision says, “The Court likewise concludes that SB 238’s elimination of Golden Week itself similarly burdens the voting rights of lower income and homeless individuals. The record reflects that in 2008, 12,842 voters utilized Golden Week to register or update their registration and vote; in 2010, 1,651 voters did so; and, in 2012, 5,844 voters did so. While these figures may be small in comparison to the millions of votes usually cast in Ohio elections, thousands of voters have utilized Golden Week during each of the last several elections.”

Copyright Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless Street Chronicle, October 2014 Cleveland, Ohio