Early-Voting Laws Contested

September 24, 2012
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Voters Already Voting in 25 States But Some States Are in Limbo

As of September 23rd, voters in 25 states will be able to vote before the November 6 election. By the end of the month, early voting will be possible in 30 states. However, in some states last minute partisan legal battles are raging about when and how early voting can occur. These cases are only a subset of over a dozen state and federal cases recently decided and appealed concerning voter identification requirements, early voting, and provisional ballots.

In 2004, approximately 20% of voters voted before the November election. That figure rose to slightly over 30% in 2008 and it is estimated that an even higher percentage will vote early in 2012. It is projected that over 45 million of us will vote early in person or by mail before November 6.

But in Florida, a key battleground state, no one knows when early voting will start. Democrats have challenged a 2011 Republican-sponsored law that cut early voting from 14 to 8 days and removed the Sunday before the November 6 election as a voting day. Democrats argued that since Florida began early voting in 2004, minority voters have disproportionately taken advantage of early voting and the new law discriminates against them: 54% of African Americans in Florida voted early in 2008 – nearly twice the rate of whites. The state argued that changing the rules now would create confusion. The U.S. District Judge who presided over the hearing last week has yet to rule.

In Ohio, another key battleground state with a history of close elections, a U.S. District Judge in August found Ohio’s early-voting laws unconstitutional. Since 2005, Ohio has allowed in-person voting to continue through the weekend before the presidential election but the Republican-led legislature recently changed the law to only allow military voters to vote on that weekend. Democrats argued that 93,000 Ohioans voted on the weekend before the 2008 election and studies have shown that the elderly, the poor and minorities are more likely to take advantage of early voting.
Republicans argued that local boards of elections needed the weekend free to prepare for Election Day and have appealed the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit.

There are many other cases filed across the country in response to new laws concerning voter qualifications and access to the polls. Many of the cases have been appealed. It is unlikely that all of the cases will be settled before November 6 and there is a real possibility that tight races may not be decided until after election day. We’ll know soon.


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