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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled today that Ohio’s attempts to limit early voting — a subject that will be argued tomorrow in front of the Fourth Circuit when it considers North Carolina’s recently enacted voting restrictions — are in fact unconstitutional. This is from the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

A federal appeals court on Wednesday affirmed a district court decision restoring early voting cuts and expanding early voting hours.

The ruling from the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals is a setback for Secretary of State Jon Husted, who had appealed a lower court’s order that he expand early voting hours.

The three-judge panel previously rejected a request to delay the court order pending Husted’s appeal. Husted then expanded statewide early, in-person voting hours while the case proceeded.

Civil rights groups and several African-American churches sued state officials in May over a new state law eliminating “Golden Week,” a week-long window when people could both register to vote and cast a ballot in Ohio, and a statewide early, in-person voting schedule that did not include Sundays. Attorneys led by the American Civil Liberties Union successfully argued in U.S. Southern District Court that the reduced number of days burdened low-income and African-American Ohioans who are more likely to take advantage of Golden Week and Sunday voting.

U.S. District Court Judge Peter C. Economus agreed. He ruled that once Ohio granted a broad scheme of early, in-person voting, state officials could not reduce it in a way that burdened certain groups of voters.

Read the court’s unanimous ruling by clicking here.

Commentary

The good folks at the ACLU have the details on the case which is also being lead by the North Carolina NAACP and civil rights lawyers at the Advancement Project:

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments on Thursday, September 25, on North Carolina’s restrictive voting law. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) are challenging provisions of the law that eliminate a week of early voting, end same-day registration, and prohibit out-of-precinct voting. Implementing these provisions would unduly burden the right to vote and discriminate against African-American voters, in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause and the Voting Rights Act.

The ACLU and SCSJ argued the law should be placed on hold until trial next summer —and in time for the midterm elections in November —but a district court judge ruled the law could go into effect; the ACLU and SCSJ appealed.

We are asking the court to protect the integrity of our elections and safeguard the vote for thousands of North Carolinians by not allowing these harmful provisions to go into effect,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.

WHO: American Civil Liberties Union and Southern Coalition for Social Justice

WHAT: Oral arguments in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on North Carolina’s restrictive voting law

WHERE: The U.S. Courthouse, 401 W. Trade Street, Charlotte, N.C.

WHEN: Thursday, September 25, 1 p.m.

Background: North Carolina passed a restrictive voting law in August 2013. The ACLU and SCSJ challenged provisions of the law Read More

Uncategorized

Here’s a chance to increase your voting rights knowledge, as we all try to whittle down these hours before finding out who won and lost in today’s general election.

Nearly everyone over the age of 18 can vote in North Carolina, including those who are jailed and awaiting trials on charges of various crimes.

“Being accused doesn’t affect your right to vote one way or the other,” said Eddie Caldwell, the director of the N.C. Sheriffs’ Association.

Casting a ballot, however, would have taken some forethought on the part of the inmate, with voting done through absentee ballots.

Only those who are convicted of felonies and currently serving out a prison or probation sentences are prevented from voting. That leaves those who are serving out misdemeanors, people who finished serving felony sentences, and those in jail awaiting trials able to exercise their rights to vote.

But, you can’t exactly walk to your regular polling place if you’re locked up in jail on Election Day.

Jailed inmates have to vote by absentee ballot, and that means interested inmates needed to have made a request to their county elections board before last Tuesday for absentee ballots, said Isela Gutierrez of Democracy NC, the good government and voting rights non-profit.

Caldwell, the sheriff’s association director, didn’t know how the state’s 100 sheriffs handle requests to vote, nor how much of the jail population typically votes in an election.

In Wake and Durham counties, Democracy NC and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice held voter registration drives in jails and helped 58 inmates in Wake and 93 in Durham request ballots for this year’s election or register to vote, Gutierrez said.

Durham jail officials allowed the groups to directly help inmates request ballots, but jailers in Wake County handed out information about voting rights themselves there because of jail staff said they didn’t have enough staff to allow for more interaction with inmates, she said.

Losing out on their right to vote today will be inmates arrested since the Oct. 30 deadline and anyone who might have woken up in a jail cell this morning wanting to vote without taking steps beforehand.

“It’s definitely too late if you’re there right now and you haven’t made any other arrangements,” Gutierrez said.