Civil Rights & Constitutional Law
Celebrating voting rights through the Vote Early, Vote Big! program
October 12, 2008
COLUMBUS, OHIO—Today, the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, Columbus Coalition for the Homeless, and Ohio Democratic Party-successful plaintiffs in previous complaints to protect Ohioans' voting rights-filed a proposed Second Supplemental Complaint against Ohio Secretary of State Jo n Husted and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine asking U.S. District Judge Algenon Marbley of the Southern District of Ohio to declare portions of Ohio Substitute Senate Bills 205 (S.B. 205) and 216 (S.B. 216) invalid for violating the federal Voting Rights Act and the Constitution, risking the disenfranchisement of thousands of Ohio voters who may cast absentee or provisional ballots, and intentionally making it more difficult for many African-American, Latino, and Democractic-Party-member Ohioans to vote.
"Ohio Republicans are implementing a two-tiered voting system in Ohio," said Subodh Chandra, counsel for the two homeless coalitions. "These new laws create two sets of rules that make it much more likely that absentee and provisional ballots cast by legitimate Ohio voters will be invalidated. We are asking the federal court to prevent this unconstitutional disenfranchisement of thousands of Ohioans."
The U.S. Constitution guarantees those who are qualified, registered, and eligible the rights to vote and to have their votes counted. Provisions within S.B. 205 and S.B. 216 impede Ohio voters from casting absentee and provisional ballots and having those ballots counted. Ohio Governor John Kasich signed S.B. 205 and S.B. 216 into law in February 2014, and both became effective June 2, 2014.
Plaintiffs argue that restrictions within S.B. 205 and S.B. 216 are equivalent to literacy tests and other forms of illegal intimidation used to deny African-Americans the right to vote that were outlawed nationwide by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Under S.B. 205 and S.B. 216, Ohioans who are qualified, registered, and eligible to vote will have their absentee and provisional ballots invalidated for immaterial reasons, including:
S.B. 205 and S.B. 216 also make it more difficult for absentee and provisional voters to prevent and correct issues that would invalidate their ballots by:
"These bills have made voting in Ohio like a privilege at a members-only club," said Chandra. "If you follow these senseless rules to the letter, they'll let you vote. If you can't, you're out of luck. Federal courts have spent decades restoring voting rights where certain officials have tried to make voting a special 'privilege'-and we believe the courts will vindicate voting rights again here in Ohio."
S.B. 205 and S.B. 216 also allow Ohio's 88 county boards of elections the discretion to reject absentee ballots cast by qualified, registered, and eligible voters for:
In their proposed supplemental complaint, the plaintiffs also allege, based on the adverse impact on minority voting-and public admissions by Republican leaders-that the Republican-dominated Ohio General Assembly and Ohio Governor John Kasich intended S.B. 205 and S.B. 216 to disenfranchise African-American and Latino voters, as well as Democratic Party voters, who predominately live in Ohio's urban counties and who are more likely to cast absentee and provisional ballots.
"Ohio Republicans have resurrected Jim Crow in the form of red tape," Chandra said. "And as we saw in the 1950s and '60s, red tape can be just as insidious and effective at keeping people from voting as long lines and locked doors at polling places."
Subodh Chandra and Sandhya Gupta of Cleveland from The Chandra Law Firm, LLC and Caroline Gentry of Dayton from Porter, Wright, Morris & Arthur LLP, represent the homeless coalitions. Donald McTigue of Columbus from McTigue, McGinnis & Colombo LLC represents the Ohio Democratic Party, which has joined in the proposed supplemental complaint.