- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Ohio can stick with its 29-day early-voting law and doesn’t have to go back to 35 days, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday in a decision small in its actual effects but major in what it says about judges’ willingness to meddle in the “minutiae” of state decisions.

Even if some voters might be inconvenienced by the subtraction of the additional six days of voting, that doesn’t mean cutting the time is a violation of fundamental rights, the judges said in a split 2-1 decision.

Voting rights advocates had turned the case into a major cause, arguing that any backsliding on the number of days available for early voting was an attack on minorities, and in particular on Ohio’s black voters. But the court rejected that, saying Ohio is already more generous than most states, with options to vote early by mail, and to vote early in person — including weekend hours.

“The undisputed factual record shows that it’s easy to vote in Ohio. Very easy, actually,” wrote Judge David McKeague, who authored the majority opinion for the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

He said the U.S. system of government allows differences among the states, and warned against federal judges hastily intervening to strike down laws written by elected representatives unless there’s a proven harmful effect on voters.

But Judge Jane Branstetter Stranch, dissenting from the majority, compared Ohio’s law to literacy tests, and said she detected secret motives on the part of Ohio lawmakers intent on stifling black voters. She said that justified having federal courts overrule elected state officials.

“I do not think that it is federal intrusion or micromanaging to evaluate election procedures to determine if discrimination lurks in an obvious rule or in a subtle detail,” she wrote.

Voting rights have become a major political issue this year, with Democrats arguing that voter-ID laws and shorter voting periods are an effort to keep poor, elderly and minority voters from the polls. Republicans though, led by presidential nominee Donald Trump, have warned of a “rigged” system, pointing to efforts in states such as Virginia to quickly restore felons’ voting rights so they can cast ballots this year.

On Monday, another federal appeals court ruled against Wisconsin’s moves to cut its early-voting period and to reduce the number of early-voting polling places. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to overturn a ruling by a lower-court judge who found the laws were an effort to dampen Democratic voters’ turnout.

Earlier this month, however, the 7th Circuit allowed Wisconsin’s voter-ID requirements to remain in place.

Conflicting rulings on voter ID laws in Wisconsin, Texas and North Carolina have created a patchwork of what’s considered legal and what’s illegal.

Meanwhile Kansas is fighting to preserve its requirement that those registering to vote have to prove they are U.S. citizens, but the 10th Circuit seemed skeptical at oral argument Tuesday.

At least two of the judges on the three-judge panel signaled they thought Kansas was stepping beyond federal law by requiring proof when voters use the federal form to register.

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