A federal judge had ruled in May that the elimination of this period would “disproportionately burden African-Americans,” but in a 2-to-1 vote, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit reversed this decision.
“Federal judicial remedies, of course, are necessary where a state law impermissibly infringes the fundamental right to vote,” Judge David W. McKeague, joined by Judge Richard Allen Griffin, wrote in the order. “No such infringement having been shown in this case, judicial restraint is in order.”
The ruling from the Cincinnati-based court comes seven weeks ahead of the deadline to register to vote, which is on Oct. 11, one day before early in-person voting and broader absentee voting begins.
“I am pleased the court agreed that Ohio’s voting period, among the most generous offered in all the states in the nation, is nondiscriminatory,” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, a Republican and one of the defendants in the case, said in a statement.
McKeague called Ohio “a national leader when it comes to early voting opportunities” in the circuit court’s ruling. He repeatedly called the voting system “generous” and wrote that requiring people to register and vote on different days “is at most, minimally burdensome.”
“The undisputed factual record shows that it’s easy to vote in Ohio,” McKeague wrote. “Very easy, actually.”
In a dissent, Judge Jane Branstetter Stranch questioned what she called this “blithe assertion.” She wrote that the lower court’s “finding that Ohio law imposes some burden on the right of African Americans to vote in Ohio indicates that how ‘easy’ it is to vote under Ohio’s new regime bears some small but definable relationship to the color of your skin.”
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, praised the court’s ruling on Tuesday, saying that the state “offers a generous number of days, hours and ways to vote – making us one of the easiest states in which to cast a ballot.”
“This issue has been dragged through the courts by political activists twice over the course of several years, and both times, it has ended with the same result: Ohio’s laws are fair and constitutional,” Husted, another defendant in the case, said in a statement. “I hope the Democrats will end their wasteful lawsuits so we can all move forward with this election.”
No decision has been made yet about whether to push for the full court to consider the case, said a spokeswoman for the Ohio Democratic Party, one of the plaintiffs involved.
“The Ohio Democratic Party took on this case because Golden Week has been a popular and cherished feature of our elections for a decade and has allowed tens of thousands of Ohioans to safely and conveniently cast a ballot,” Chairman David Pepper said in a statement.He added: “The decision today is a reminder that we all need to exercise that right this fall and cast our ballot for candidates who will protect and expand the right to vote, not restrict it.”
Pepper said that the party is “disappointed” with the decision and “examining our next steps to ensure that golden week is restored.”
Daniel P. Tokaji, an expert on election law at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law, said he expected a petition to have the case heard by the full court.
In May, Husted had criticized Judge Michael Watson for his ruling and filed an appeal in the case, calling Golden Week “both an administrative problem and a voter integrity issue.” Husted said at the time that voters from out of state “were illegally registering to vote and casting ballots during this time period.”
A series of fights across the country are being waged over new and stricter laws that limit early voting, add voter ID requirements and impose other new restrictions. There are 15 states that will have new restrictions in place for the first time during a presidential election, according to the Brennan Center for Justice in New York, including several key swing states like Ohio.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio said that the organization “has always strongly opposed the elimination of Golden Week, particularly because its elimination would discriminate against African Americans.”
Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, remains ahead in national polling as well as in swing states like Ohio. In a Monmouth University poll released Monday, Clinton holds a narrow four-point lead in Ohio over Donald Trump, her Republican opponent. She leads him 43 percent to 39 percent among likely voters, the poll found.
This story, first published at 3:45 p.m., has been updated to add the statement from the Ohio Democratic Party.