COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to restore a week of early voting in swing-state Ohio, a decision denounced by Democrats but praised by the state’s Republican elections chief, who noted voters can still begin casting ballots for the presidential election in less than a month.
The court denied a request from the state’s Democratic Party to delay the voting change pending appeal.
A lower court decision from last month upheld a law eliminating days in which people could register and vote at the same time, a period known as golden week.
Democrats had claimed the reduction, along with other voting changes, disproportionately burdened black voters and those who lean Democratic. But the state’s attorneys argued that scrapping the days helped alleviate administrative burdens for local elections officials while reducing costs and the potential of fraud.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, said the high court ruling makes clear the state’s laws are fair and constitutional.
“Ohioans want an efficient and secure election and it is time for these wasteful lawsuits to end,” Husted said in a statement.
Ohio Democratic Party chairman David Pepper expressed his disappointment with the court’s rejection.
“Ohio Republicans can keep trying to make it harder for people to vote, but we will continue to fight them at every turn,” Pepper said in a statement.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled in August that the golden-week cut still allows for “abundant” opportunities to vote within a 29-day early voting window. Prior to the law, Ohioans had a 35-day period.
The Supreme Court denied the Democrats’ request to put that decision on hold while they appealed.
Democrats had faced long odds in their request to the high court.
The Supreme Court justices recently divided 4-4 in a move to reinstate North Carolina’s voter identification requirement. The split illustrated how closely divided the court is on voting rights.
Tuesday’s decision means voters in Ohio can start casting early ballots in the fall presidential election on Oct. 12.
In May, U.S. District Judge Michael Watson had sided with Democrats on their golden-week claim, finding that the reduction violated the Voting Rights Act and voters’ equal protection rights.
Watson, an appointee of Republican President George W. Bush, had said evidence presented in the case reflected that black voters use same-day voter registration and early voting options at higher rates than whites. While the court can’t predict how African-Americans will turn out in future elections, he said, “It is reasonable to conclude from this evidence that their right to vote will be modestly burdened” by the law.
More than 60,000 people voted during golden week in 2008, while over 80,000 cast ballots during the period in 2012, according to court documents.