The Supreme Court on Tuesday turned down a plea from Ohio Democrats to stay a lower court decision and add more early voting days in the presidential battleground state.
Without noted dissent, the justices left intact a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit that said the state already provided more early voting than the majority of states. As a result, Ohio will not have a period in which residents may register and vote at the same time.
Ohio’s Republican legislature eliminated the period known as “Golden Week.” Democrats sued, saying that it was a voting procedure disproportionately used by minority voters.
The Supreme Court’s short order gave no reason for denying the request.
The denial was the third time in recent weeks that the justices declined to get involved in a lower court’s ruling on a state’s election laws. The justices split on North Carolina’s strict voting law, meaning a lower court decision that found the law intentionally discriminatory stands and it cannot be used in November.
Last week, the court turned down a request from Michigan that it be allowed to ban straight-party balloting. Lower courts said the Republican-backed law banning straight-party voting could discriminate against minority voters, who disproportionately use the procedure.
Tuesday’s denial was the first to work against Democrats. The two parties have been locked in lawmaking and litigation in Ohio ever since the 2004 presidential election, when long lines at the polls meant that some missed their chance to vote.
One answer to the problem was an extensive system of early voting.
Democrats said that in the 2012 presidential election, 14,000 people registered to vote during Golden Week, and 80,000 cast their votes on those days. After a trial, a federal district judge said Ohio’s decision to eliminate the option violated equal protection and the Voting Rights Act. While not terribly burdensome, the judge ruled, Ohio provided no good reasons for doing away with the week.
But the appeals court panel voted 2 to 1 to overturn that decision, saying Ohio was a national leader in offering early voting.
“Even without Golden Week, Ohio’s registration and voting processes afford abundant opportunity for all Ohio voters, of whatever racial or ethnic background, to register and exercise their right to vote,” wrote U.S. Circuit Judge David McKeague.
The panel noted that the current voting program resulted from a settlement of an earlier case between the state and the American Civil Liberties Union. Additionally, it said that not allowing Ohio to cut back on its generous early voting would mean there was a “one way ratchet” that would prevent any state from ever making cuts, even with a good reason.
It is not the end of litigation in the battleground state. Still to be resolved are purges of inactive voters and what to do about eligible voters who cast their ballots at the wrong precinct.