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Another Court Defeat for Ohio's Strict Voting Laws

A federal judge says new laws made it too easy to throw out provisional ballots, potentially hurting minority voters.

Mark Duncan / AP

For the second time in two weeks, a judge in Ohio has struck down provisions of the state’s voting laws. Federal district court Judge Algenon Marbley said two laws passed in 2014 violated the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection with laws that made it too easy for provisional ballots to be thrown out for “trivial” errors.

Marbley ruled that the laws could have a racially disparate effect, whether or not that was the intent:

Make no mistake: the court is deeply troubled by the flurry of voting-related legislation introduced during the time period in question, all of which sought to limit the precious right to the franchise in some manner, and most of which was a peripatetic solution in search of a problem. The court agrees, moreover, that the Republican-controlled General Assembly’s frenetic pace of introducing such legislation reflects questionable motives, given the wealth of other problems facing the state which actually needed solutions. If the dog whistles in the General Assembly continue to get louder, courts considering future challenges to voting restrictions in Ohio may very well find that intentional discrimination is afoot.

Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, criticized the decision as the “latest attempt at judicial activism.”

Restrictions on voting, of which many of have been passed in the United States over the last decade, tend to disproportionately affect minority voters, who overwhelmingly vote Democratic. The laws’ proponents, mostly Republicans, say the racial effects are not intended, and that the laws are needed to protect the sanctity of the vote.

Two weeks ago, a state court judge ruled that the elimination of “Golden Week,” a period in which Ohioans could both register to vote and cast a ballot, was illegal. This month, Reuters reported on how the Buckeye State is purging voters from rolls who have voted as recently as 2008.

While there have been recent high profile battles over voting rights across the country, from North Carolina to Wisconsin to Missouri, Ohio is a particularly important battleground because it’s a perpetual swing state, often decided by close margins—the sort of margins that could be influenced by the elimination of thousands of Democratic votes.