More and more, it seems, every decision affecting voting ends up in the courts. How are congressional districts configured? How can people register? Are petition signatures valid? Should people have to show photo ID to vote? Is ballot language unclear? When can people vote? Must the polls stay open late on Election Day because of machine malfunctions? Often it seems there are as many stories about court rulings as about candidates.
In Ohio, the latest judicial decision addressed the issue of early voting, which started this past week. Ohio’s Secretary of State had ordered county boards of elections to stop early voting the Friday before Election Day, except for members of the military. The Obama campaign challenged that decision, and on Friday a federal court of appeals ruled that the Secretary of State’s decision was invalid. As a result, individual county boards themselves will decide whether to be open on those days.
As a lawyer, I obviously don’t object to people seeking judicial recourse when they believe their rights have been violated. The big issue, to my mind, is confusion on the part of voters about what the rules are — confusion that may cause them to inadvertently lose their right to vote. I hope that we are done with court rulings affecting Ohio this election cycle, so that information about the actual rules can be disseminated to all voters before November 6. I also hope that the state and local officials who address voting recognize that it might be helpful to simply leave the rules that have been vetted and approved by courts unchanged for a few elections, so that every voter knows when, where, and how they can exercise one of the most important rights afforded to any American citizen.