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Homeless coalition, others seek federal-court injunction and contempt sanctions against Ohio legislative leaders for trying to undermine federal consent decree on voting rights

The Chandra Law Firm, LLC has been working to protect Ohioans' right to vote from voter-suppression efforts since 2006.

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Contact: Caroline Gentry (Porter Wright Morris & Arthur)

937.449.6748 (o); 937.287.8983 (m); or cgentry AT porterwright.com

Subodh Chandra (The Chandra Law Firm, LLC)

216.578.1700 (o); 216.965.6463 (m); or Subodh.Chandra AT ChandraLaw.com

Homeless coalition, others seek federal-court injunction and contempt sanctions against Ohio legislative leaders for trying to undermine federal Consent Decree on voting rights

Republican leaders attempt end-run around federal court to Ohio Supreme Court to re-impose voting-rights violations that federal Consent Decree had corrected

COLUMBUS, OHIO - Plaintiffs, the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1199, joined by intervenor the Ohio Democratic Party, filed an urgent motion today before U.S. District Judge Algenon Marbley of the Southern District of Ohio. The motion asks the Court to enjoin Republican legislative leaders Thomas Niehaus and Louis Blessing from pursuing a case the two filed on April 16 before the Ohio Supreme Court. The case seeks to undermine the voting-rights Consent Decree the plaintiffs obtained in April 2010 from Judge Marbley. The Decree was issued in the case Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, et al. v. Brunner, et al. U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio Case No. 2:06-cv-896.

Niehaus is the Ohio Senate President and Blessing is the Ohio House Speaker Pro Tempore. The motion also seeks to hold these legislators in contempt of court because they are seeking, as agents of the State of Ohio, to thwart the Decree, despite the State of Ohio's-along with the Secretary of State's-agreement to enter into the Decree.

The Decree requires the Secretary of State to direct Ohio's 88 county election boards to count certain provisional ballots where a poll worker (1) wrongly allowed the voter to cast a vote in the wrong precinct (but right polling place), (2) wrongly allowed the voter not to complete or sign the provisional-ballot application, or (3) incorrectly failed to complete or sign the provisional-ballot application for the voter. Plaintiffs' attorney Caroline Gentry, a Dayton attorney with Porter Wright Morris & Arthur, said, "the Decree ensures what Ohio law does not provide-that legitimate voters do not pay a price when government workers make mistakes. Voters should demand to know why, on the eve of a presidential election, these legislators would want to renege on the State's agreement on the General Assembly's behalf to fix such constitutional violations. They must be stopped."

Critically, the Decree protects those who lack the state-mandated forms of ID that require a person to have financial means (such as a utility bill, bank statement, or current driver's license reflecting a current address), by ensuring that voters who provide social-security numbers to prove their identities will have their provisional ballots counted. The Decree thus reached a compromise regarding plaintiffs' concerns that the voter-ID law was a poll tax and disenfranchised voters who are poor or transient. After all, many poor people do not have utility or bank statements, for example, in their names.

Prior to the November 2008 election, the plaintiffs had produced evidence that election boards intended to apply widely varying rules to provisional ballots. Boards across the state, for example, were divided on whether to accept or reject a ballot that did not include the voter's date of birth. The Decree resolved that confusion and lack of uniformity by clearly providing that such ballots must be counted.

In the related Hunter v. Hamilton County Board of Elections case, S.D. Ohio 1:10-cv-00820, filed in 2010 before Judge Susan Dlott, substantial evidence emerged of poll-worker errors, in which poll workers would regularly direct voters to the wrong precinct. Judge Dlott in that case ordered that such ballots be re-made to conform to the correct precinct and be counted, relying in part on the Consent Decree that the legislators now seek to undermine. Judge Dlott further found that governmental efforts to throw out such votes violate the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution.

Caroline Gentry of Dayton and her team from Porter Wright, and Subodh Chandra of Cleveland, represent both the Homeless Coalition and SEIU Local 1199. SEIU is also represented by San Francisco attorneys Stacey Leyton, Stephen P. Berzon, Diana Reddy, Danielle Leonard, and Columbus attorneys Michael J. Hunter and Catherine J. Harshman. Intervenor, the Ohio Democratic Party, is represented by Donald J. McTigue of Columbus.

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