Ohio's "Golden Week" is back - but will voters take advantage of it?
Ohio’s “Golden Week” of early voting is back.
So too are the 35 day early voting period and extended evening and weekend hours for in-person early voting.
All thanks to a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Peter Economus of Cleveland; and a refusal by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati to put a stay on Economus’ decision.
Ohio Republicans are furious. Ohio Democrats are jubilant.
But, in the end, does it really matter?
Both sides think so, for different reasons, of course.
The flap started when the majority Republicans in the Ohio legislature cut Ohio’s early voting period from 35 to 29 days, doing away with “Golden Week” – the week between the opening of early voting to the voter registration deadline where anyone could walk into one of Ohio’s 88 county boards of elections, register to vote, and cast his or her ballot at the same time.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted – a Republican running for re-election - followed the law, and set uniform hours for early in-person voting at boards of elections which included only one week day with extended hours (the voter registration deadline day) and only one Sunday (the Sunday before the election).
The NAACP, the ACLU and others sued in federal court and Economus recently ruled in their favor; and refused the request of Husted and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine to put a stay on his decision.
Husted and DeWine went to the Sixth Circuit; and a three judge panel of the Sixth Circuit also refused to issue a stay – although the state’s appeal goes on. But it is unlikely to be resolved by Sept. 30, the day early voting starts in Ohio.
Dan Tokaji, a professor who specializes in election law at Ohio State’s Moritz College of Law, says it is too early to predict what the Sixth Circuit might ultimately do on the state’s appeal.
But, Tokaji said, the state has a track record of losing cases where plaintiffs alleged the state was trying to limit voting rights.
“The message to the state of Ohio from the courts has been very clear – stop monkeying with the right to vote,’’ Tokaji said.
But the new, expanded hours have been set by Husted and will begin Sept. 30, instead of Oct. 6, as he had originally proposed.
Here’s how in-person voting will work at all boards of elections:
- 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 30 through Oct. 3, Oct. 7 through Oct. 10, and Oct. 14 through Oct. 17.
- 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Oct. 6 (the last day to register to vote).
- 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Oct. 20 through Oct. 24, and Oct. 27 through Oct. 31.
- 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 25 and Saturday, Nov. 1.
- 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on two Sundays – Oct. 26 and Nov. 2.
- 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 3 (the day before the election).
The new schedule adds nine week days of extended voting hours and one Sunday to the original directive Husted sent to boards of elections around the state.
Adding that Sunday of in-person early voting is particularly important to African-American voters. In 2012, black ministers around the state organized “Souls to the Polls” operations, where they would bus members of the congregation to the board of elections right after church services.
Democrats are delighted that Golden Week and the extended in-person early voting hours are back – and well they should be, because, in past elections, it has tended to be used in large numbers by African-American voters, who, for the most part, vote for Democrats.
“It gives more options, so, yes, I think it is beneficial to voters,’’ said Hamilton County Democratic Party chairman Tim Burke.
Golden Week – where you can register and vote at the same time – “does encourage new voters to go out and register to vote,’’ Burke said.
Republicans say that opens the door to potential voter fraud, although Burke said such cases are very rare and are spotted by election workers.
Hamilton County Republican Party chairman Alex Triantafilou strongly disagrees.
“We’ve seen fraud take place – I’m not saying massive fraud, but it is there,’’ Triantafilou said. “There’s a potential for fraud in Golden Week.”
What really gets under the skin of Triantafilou and other Republicans is their contention that a federal judge is dictating Ohio election law.
“It’s a travesty, an imperial judiciary at work,’’ Triantafilou said. “One federal judge can sit and overturn the will of the Ohio House, the Ohio Senate and the Ohio Secretary of State.”
Republicans say that Ohio is surrounded by states that have no early voting periods whatsoever – Kentucky, Michigan, Pennsylvania. Ohio, the GOP argues, is more than generous about giving people the opportunity to vote, without adding that extra week.
The argument on the other side says that it doesn’t matter what other states do – Ohio has had its 35 day early voting period – by mail-in absentee and in-person voting at boards of elections – since 2006 and any attempt by Husted and the Republican legislators to change the system is taking away voting opportunities that Ohioans have had and used for years.
Hamilton County has, in the past, showed lower levels of early voting than some other large urban counties – especially Franklin and Cuyahoga counties. It is especially true during Golden Week.
In 2012, a presidential year, thousands of Ohioans registered to vote and cast their ballots on the same day.
In Hamilton County, the numbers were miniscule. Hamilton County election officials say that only 199 in 2012 and 37 in 2010 registered and voted on the same day.
So Golden Week is back.
The question now is how many people take advantage of it.