One court decision this week was a godsend to Ohio Gov. John R. Kasich, running for a second and final term this year, who can thank Republican judges on the state supreme court from protecting his most sacred cow from slaughter, JobsOhio, by denying standing to the parties that brought the suit on the grounds that Kasich's secret non-profit group violates provisions in the Ohio Constitution that prohibit government officials committing taxpayer funds to private enterprise.
Democrats grumbled on Monday from the state court decision protecting JobsOhio, but cheered Wednesday when the US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio ruled in favor of the Democratic National Committee and the Ohio Democratic Party’s [ODP] motion for summary judgment to permanently maintain the final three days of early voting leading up to Election Day going forward
Gov. Kasich signed a bill that came from his friendly Republican-controlled legislature that made reforms to state voting laws by denying access to the ballot on the three days prior to Election Day.
ODP Chairman Chris Redfern released a statement that said the courts have ruled in all cases so far to keep access for early voting. "All along, we believed the actions of the Republican-controlled legislature, Secretary of State Husted and Governor Kasich were unconstitutional," Redfern, a sitting Member of the Ohio House of Representatives who was again elected to his leadership position, said. "This ruling shows how important these last three days are to ensure equal access to the ballot, and the hours set by Secretary Husted should reflect that."
Ever pugnacious, Redfern reminded voters that ODP has never lost one a similar case to protect voting rights for all Ohioans. "It's time Jon Husted and John Kasich set aside their partisan loyalties and embrace voting rights."
Judge Peter C. Economus ruled unconstitutional the change of deadline for in-person early voting from the close of business on the day before election day to 6 p.m. on the Friday before election day. He said rolling back the deadline for early voting to that Friday violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
In his decision, Judge Economus ordered permanent injunctive relief to the Plaintiffs, which means Ohio officials, specifically the Ohio Secretary of State, must not enforce the law Gov. Kasich signed. By his decision, in-person early voting is restored on the three days immediately preceding all future election days for all eligible voters. The Secretary of State Husted shall be responsible for setting business hours for such voting to preserve the right of all Ohio voters to cast his or her vote with said hours to be uniform throughout the State and suitable to the needs of the particular election in question, he said in his opinion Wednesday.
In a conference call with reporters following the ruling today, Redfern asked that Ohioans remember how we got here. He laid the blame squarely on Gov. Kasich and state Republicans who he said "permitted a law we knew to be unconstitutional to be enacted." This ruling marked the fifth time ODP has sued in federal court and won, he said.
Redfern said 96,000 Ohioans took advantage of early voting in 2012, and said the party will reach out to them again this year. Asked about reluctant voter turnout for Democrats this year, Chairman Redfern said the state party has cultivated the best infrastructure and, more importantly, Democrats and their nominee for governor are right on the issues.
Ed FitzGerald, ODP's endorsed candidate to take on Gov. Kasich this year, joined Redfern on the call. Ohio's first elected executive for Cuyahoga County's refashioned government structure, FitzGerald said the decision is a vindication of people's right to vote. "We keep going back, like it's groundhog day, he said, to the same pattern. He accused Gov. Kasich of restricting the franchise and access to voting rights, and said he was again reprimanded and overruled. "It's sad we have to keep going through this process again,: he said, noting that state lawmakers should be looking to expand voting rights, instead of trying to get around them by violating the constitution. He cited the role played in the suit brought by Obama's group Organizing for America from Cuyahoga County, who contributed an amicus brief. Redfern said other voting rights cases are still pending, and lamented that the court seems to be the only guardian of voting rights.
Other Democrats wasted no time in chiming in:
Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni (D-Boardman)
“I am thrilled that all Ohioans will have equal access to in-person early voting on the three days prior to future elections. This decision is a victory for voters and for the fundamental principle that elected officials should work to make it easier to vote and not harder. And it sends a message to Secretary Husted and GOP legislators that the federal courts will not tolerate efforts to unfairly limit voting opportunities.”
Assistant Minority Leader Charleta B. Tavares (D-Columbus)
“I am pleased with the judge’s decision. The General Assembly should take to heart the message that voting must be accessible and fairly administered both on Election Day and during the crucial early voting period.”
Minority Whip Edna Brown (D-Toledo)
“I am extremely pleased that Judge Economus has made this decision to require equal early in-person voting before election day in Ohio. This recognizes the protections of the 14th Amendment. I believe officials in our state should work to make voting accessible to all Ohioans and this decision helps protect a method that is utilized by thousands of voters to cast their ballot.”
Assistant Minority Whip Lou Gentile (D-Steubenville)
“Today’s decision to restore early in person voting during the last three days before an election is a victory for voters across Ohio. This decision is a step to help ensure more equitable access to the ballot and I applaud the US District Court for working to restore fairness in voting to all Ohioans.”
Senator Tom Sawyer (D-Akron)
“By ensuring the constitutional requirement that voting standards be applied equally, this decision protects access to the ballot and recognizes that governments of every level should support, protect, and defend the principles of democracy.”
Senator Eric H. Kearney (D-Cincinnati)
“Today’s decision makes permanent the 2012 victory protecting equal voting opportunities for all Ohioans. Our Caucus has long fought for voting rights and was particularly proud to argue for the last three days both in the General Assembly and before the United States Supreme Court.”
Democrats seized on the decision by turning the favorable ruling into a fundraising request. "Thanks to you, we're expanding Ohioans' ability to cast a vote and have it counted-- not taking it away, as Gov. Kasich, Secretary of State Husted, and the Republicans in the legislature have tried to do so many times before," ODP said in a follow-up email. "We know the GOP will throw everything they have at us this year in an effort to keep our voters at home. The way we take advantage of this ruling, and the way we win, is with a ground-game that overwhelms any Republican attempt to suppress the vote."