by Jeremy Leaming
Right-wing efforts to build hurdles to voting – especially in swing states – before the upcoming presidential contest have been dealt setbacks by federal courts within the month. For example, in Florida, Texas, and Ohio the courts have, at least temporarily, scuttled efforts to enforce rigid voter ID laws, curtailment of early voting times, and restrictions on voter registration drives.
But there are also a string of lawsuits challenging states’ handling of provisional ballots.
SEIU and others are fighting Ohio’s provisional ballot-counting rules. Specifically SEIU has sought a statewide injunction against an election law provision that disqualifies provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct or with errors caused by poll workers. (The Help America Vote Act, (HAVA) enacted by the federal government after the 2000 presidential election debacle, gives voters the opportunity to cast a provisional ballot if poll workers are unable to verify their identities. As The New York Times’ Ethan Bronner recently put it, “anyone whose identity or voting precinct is in doubt can ask for a provisional ballot at any polling station and then has a number of days to return with the required documentation to make the vote count.)
In late August, U.S. District Judge Algenon L. Marbley sided with SEIU’s request for a preliminary injunction against Ohio’s provisional ballot scheme. SEIU argued that the injunction was “necessary to prevent the irreparable and unconstitutional disqualification of thousands of lawfully registered voters’ ballots in the upcoming November 2012 general election.” (See Marbley’s opinion here, courtesy of Election Law Blog.)
Judge Marbley noted that several years after HAVA was enacted, Ohio lawmakers created some voter ID requirements, which “have been referred to as ‘exceptionally convoluted.’” SEIU and the other groups argued before the judge that Ohio’s stringent voter ID law along with its process for handling provisional ballots are causes for “the relatively high rate of Ohio voters forced to cast provisional ballots rather than normal ballots in recent elections.”
Citing Supreme Court precedent, Marbley said Ohio’s provisional ballot scheme must be carefully examined especially “since the right to exercise the franchise in a free and unimpaired manner is preservative of other basic civil and political rights, any alleged infringement of the right to citizens to vote must be carefully and meticulously scrutinized.”
And after scrutinizing Ohio’s convoluted provisional ballot rules, the judge concluded the groups had a strong chance of proving they violate the Constitution’s equal protection clause in a number of ways.