It appears that a federal judge has had the last word on when Ohioans can cast their ballots prior to Election Day.
At least we hope that's the case with the ruling by U.S. District Judge Peter Economus, who ordered that early voting hours be maintained on the final Saturday, Sunday and Monday before the November general election. Economus ruled that legislation ending in-person voting on the Friday before the election was unconstitutional -- and, even more importantly, issued a permanent injunction requiring early voting for "all future election days."
In doing so, Judge Economus may have laid to rest -- hopefully, once and for all -- the political maneuvering that has turned early voting into a partisan football in Ohio.
Secretary of State Jon Husted has indicated that he will follow the court ruling, issuing a statement that "uniformity and equality won the day." This marks the second time since the 2012 election that Husted has been required by a federal court to maintain early voting in the run-up to the election. Economus issued the previous order, too.
Uniform and equal access to the ballot box is imperative; no voters should forego their right to cast a ballot because of long lines on Election Day, as has been the case for some Ohioans during heavy voter turnouts. Allowing access to the polls on the weekend before balloting provides a means of curbing excessive turnout on Election Day while ensuring that voters are able to exercise their democratic rights. Weekend voting also offers an opportunity for those who work to cast their ballots more conveniently.
At the same time, however, "uniformity and equality" should not be an excuse for one-size-fits-all election regulations, which Husted has advocated. The needs of the electorate in large cities and suburbs are different from those who live in rural areas, and local election boards ought to have the flexibility to determine polling hours to serve their constituencies.
Bickering over balloting is a relatively recent turn of events in Ohio, and an unfortunate one. Successive secretaries of state have politicized the election process, aided and abetted by politically motivated legislative action that has hindered voter access. The fact that federal court intervention has become necessary to maintain voting rights in the Buckeye State is a telling commentary.
Election laws ought to encourage voting, period. Creating hurdles that keep voters away from the polls does a disservice to democracy. Judge Economus' ruling helps ensure voter access.