U.S. District Court Judge Peter C. Economus, a Clinton appointee, granted a preliminary injunction after a coalition of voting rights advocates sued on the grounds that the restrictions violated the Constitution's equal protection clause and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
The lawsuit challenges a law enacted this year which scaled back early in-person voting from 35 to 28 days and eliminated "Golden Week," where Ohioans could register and vote in the same week.
"The judge found as a matter of fact (crediting expert reports of the plaintiffs’ especially that of U. Florida’s Dan Smith) that the cutbacks in early voting would disproportionately fall on African-Americans," wrote Rick Hasen, an election law professor at UC-Irvine. "The judge found that early voters, especially in the larger population areas of the state, included a large portion of the state’s share of African-American voters. The judge also found that African-American voters were distrustful of absentee balloting as an alternative to in person voting, and that absentee balloting was more burdensome (filling out the materials, postage, mailing, etc.)."
The next step is for the challenge to be heard by a trial court. The case features a number of complicated legal questions about proper limits on voting restrictions; it could elevate to an appeals court and potentially even the Supreme Court. In the meantime, restrictions on early voting are not expected to apply in the midterm elections.
The American Civil Liberties Union, one of the group challenging the cutbacks, called the injunction "a huge victory for Ohio voters and for all those who believe in protecting the integrity of our elections."