Ohio's Golden Week Of Early Voting Is Back - At Least For Now
Ohio's amazing "Golden Week" – the week before the deadline for voter registration where Ohioans can register to vote and cast their ballots at the same time.
Amazing, because it seems to keep materializing and de-materializing.
Abracadabra! Hocus pocus! Now you see it; now you don't.
Golden Week went away a year or so ago when the Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted – who despises Golden Week the way most kids despise cauliflower – says he reached a settlement with the Ohio NAACP, the ACLU and other plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit that had been grinding through saylegal system.
Husted has been saying publicly that the Ohio ACLU agreed to do away with Golden Week, but Ohio ACLU spokesman Mike Brickner told Ohio Public Radio's Jo Ingles Friday that his organization never agreed that the elimination of Golden Week was fair or constitutional.
Husted, Brickner said, is "coming out saying we supported the elimination of it. That's just not true."
But Golden Week went away, in exchange for more hours on weekends for people to vote in person at their boards of election during the 28-day early voting period.
Even the Ohio Association of Election Officials – the people who have to administer Golden Week in Ohio's 88 counties – was glad to see it go.
But then the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, a coalition of Democrats, with help from a lawyer for the Hillary Clinton campaign, filed a new lawsuit in U.S. District Court, saying Golden Week should be restored, thus increasing Ohio's early voting period from 28 to 35 days.
Lo and behold, on Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Michael Watson – a Republican appointee by former President George W. Bush – ruled that the Golden Week should be restored.
In his decision, Watson said that doing away with it was a violation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Why? Because, he wrote, that it adversely affected African-American voters more than others.
Watson found that, in presidential election years, voters from African-American neighborhoods were five times more likely to use Golden Week than voters from white neighborhoods.
When this ruling came out, Husted was one very unhappy camper; and he let everyone know it.
Husted, in a written statement, said it was "disappointing that a federal judge would again change the election rules after the current laws were upheld in the same federal district court by a settlement agreement we reached with the NAACP and the ACLU."
"This point is further amplified when you consider that, for nearly 200 years, Ohioans voted for only one day,'' Husted said.
Ohio's early voting period was created by the legislature in 2004 with bipartisan support and signed into law by a Republican governor, Bob Taft.
On Thursday, Husted, through the attorney general's office, filed notice of appeal with the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Husted upped the ante with his news release on the decision to appeal, bringing up the specter of voter fraud into the argument.
"Golden Week had become both an administrative and a voter integrity issue,'' Husted wrote. "Out-of-state voters were illegally registering to vote and casting ballots during this time period. Eliminating Golden Week reduced the growing potential for voter fraud."
Hamilton County Democratic Party chairman Tim Burke, who also chairs the county board of election, told WVXU that the Republicans continually exaggerate the idea of voter fraud.
"Not only is it not a major problem in Ohio, it is not even a significant problem,'' Burke said.
Burke told WVXU he can only remember one instance in Hamilton County where someone tried to vote during Golden Week who was not qualified to cast a ballot here.
"There was a young guy who was in town from the east coast, visiting his buddies at UC,'' Burke said. "The four of them came down to the board of elections; and registered to vote and cast their ballots. The one from out of town did too, but it was spotted and, of course, his vote wasn't counted. That's it. That's the extent ot the fraud I am aware of."
Ohio Democratic Party chairman David Pepper called the appeal a "sad day" for Ohio.
"They are defending a law that clear data showed imposed a stark discriminatory impact on Ohio's African-American voters,'' Pepper said. "They are now rushing to defend that blatant discrimination at higher level."
Golden Week was in place during the last presidential election in 2012; and, in Ohio, more than 80,000 Ohioans voted that week, Pepper said. About 14,000 of them were new or updated registrations.
In the last two presidential campaign cycles in Hamilton County, people were not exactly beating the doors down at the board of elections to register and vote during Golden Week.
In 2008 – the first time Barack Obama was on the ballot – 670 people took advantage of Golden Week. By 2012, when Obama was running for re-election, that number dropped to 199.
Alex Triantafilou, the chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party and a member of the board of elections, said his objection is so much directed at the concept of early voting. His objection is to what he considers to be an over-reaching judiciary butting into how the state runs its elections.
"We keep having these unelected members of the judiciary making decisions on our voting process," Triantafilou said. "They are thwarting the will of the legislature and the people who elected them.
"This is why we have an elected legislature,'' Triantafilou said. "To do the will of the people who elected them."
But, this year, it will be up to a panel of appeals court judges to decide if Golden Week is going to be golden after all.