Ohio provisional ballots

  • November 5, 2012

    by E. Sebastian Arduengo

    It appears the push by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted to suppress voter turnout through thinly veiled measures like voter ID laws and a confusing provisional ballot policy will continue through to Election Day. ACSblog has devoted extensive coverage to Husted's efforts to keep Ohio voters from the polls. The long and short of it is that since this election cycle got in to full swing, Husted (pictured) has striven to ensure that voting will be “fair and genuine” (read: as difficult as possible) for hard-working Ohioans.

    It started back in August when Ohio Republicans reduced the early voting period from thirty-five days to eleven, even cutting back on the Sunday before the election – the time when African-American churches have traditionally encouraged parishioners to exercise join in the democratic process. In response, voting rights activists had to gather enough signatures to force an Election Day referendum on the issue. The state’s Republicans then changed course and stopped all early voting in the three days before Election Day, with an exception for members of the military. The Obama campaign challenged that measure in court, and on Oct. 11, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that the early voting restrictions violated the equal protection clause and restored full early voting for Ohioans.

    But, that setback didn’t stop Husted. He cut back early voting in Democratic-leaning cities by limiting early voting hours on weekdays, making it nearly impossible for those with day-jobs from voting either before or after work. Meanwhile, in heavily Republican areas, Republican election officials approved measures to expand early voting hours on nights and weekends. This sparked another public outcry, and instead of expanding ballot access for all, Husted issued a statewide mandate directing all counties to limit early voting times. Republican election officials minced no words when explaining why they wanted to limit voter turnout. In the words of Franklin County (Columbus) GOP Chair Doug Preisse, “I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban [e.g., minority] voter-turnout machine.”

  • October 11, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    A federal appeals court provided a setback to Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted’s effort to create more hurdles to voting, by ruling against a part of the state’s rigid provisional ballot rules.

    A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in an unsigned opinion, kept in place an injunction barring election officials from refusing to count ballots cast at the wrong precinct because of poll workers’ errors. SEIU and other groups lodged a lawsuit against the state arguing that an injunction against the law was needed to “prevent the irreparable and unconstitutional disqualification of thousands of lawfully registered voters’ ballots in the upcoming November 2012 general election.” In August, U.S. District Judge Algenon L. Marbley agreed with SEIU’s argument and issued a preliminary injunction against the law.

    Today’s Sixth Circuit action supported the bar against the provisional ballot rule. The appeals court noted that pursuant to Ohio law poll workers carry the burden of ensuring voters are at the correct precinct and that they have correct precinct ballots. The appeals court also took note of the “voluminous evidence” presented by SEIU “that poll workers give voters wrong-precinct ballots for a number of reasons, ranging from misunderstanding counties’ precinct location guides to failing to understand the vote-disqualifying ramifications of handing out wrong-precinct ballots.”

    “The Secretary failed to present evidence to the district court that other factors besides poll-worker error caused wrong-precinct ballots, and the State offers none now,” the Sixth Circuit stated.

    But the provision of the elections law requiring the rejection of right-place/wrong precinct ballots, the court continued “caused by poll-worker error effectively requires voters to have a greater knowledge of their precinct, precinct ballot, and polling place than poll workers. Absent such omniscience, the State will permanently reject their ballots without an opportunity to cure the situation. The mere fact that these voters cast provisional ballots does not justify this additional burden; as the district court explained.”

  • September 14, 2012

    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.