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New Voters in Ohio Face Threat of Ineligibility, Intimidation

October 10, 2008

For Immediate Release:  October 10, 2008


Meg Reilly, mreilly@gloverparkgroup.com, 202-292-6975


Voting rights coalition urges U.S. Court of Appeals to honor Secretary of State Brunner's accurate interpretation of election law

October 10, 2008 - A coalition of voting rights groups today took twin actions to protect the right to vote of hundreds of thousands of Ohions who registered to vote this year, and to halt recent efforts by law enforcement officials in one Ohio county apparently aimed at intimidating Ohions who had legally cast absentee ballots in the county for the November 4 election. 

The right to vote of Ohions who registered to vote this year was cast into doubt by the decision late yesterday of a federal trial court judge, who issued his ruling based on a faulty interpretation of the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002 ("HAVA").  The judge concluded that HAVA makes the eligibility to vote of Ohio residents dependent on the ability of state officials to match each new registration record, by computer, with a record for the same individual in other databases.  The judge made this determination despite his acknowledgement that the database matching process inherently is rife with error.  The Ohio Secretary of State has objected to using database matching as a means for reviewing voter eligibility, and has appealed the trial court's ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

In a "friend of the court" brief filed with the appeals court, the voting rights groups contend that the trial court's decision is wrong and that the Secretary of State has correctly implemented HAVA.  The brief argues that HAVA does not require that database matching be used to evaluate voter eligibility.  Further,  the brief points out that preventing registered voters from voting in the November 4 election, based on a computer matching error, would actually violate provisions of HAVA and the National Voter Registration Act that preclude eleventh hour efforts to purge the voter registration rolls.

The voting rights groups also acted today to seek to put a halt to an investigation undertaken by the sheriff of Greene County, Ohio, who had begun targeting county residents based solely on their lawful exercise of the right under state law  to simultaneously register to vote and cast an absentee ballot during a five-day period that recently ended.  The right of these residents to register to vote, and then immediately cast an absentee ballot, had just been upheld by the Ohio Supreme Court and by federal courts.  The voting rights groups sent a letter to the sheriff stating that, in light of these widely publicized rulings, it appeared that his actions constituted voter intimidation in violation of federal law.  Shortly after this letter was sent, the sheriff issued a press release stating that he had ended his investigation.

"By questioning the validity of everyone who registered to vote in Ohio this year, eligible new voters are subject to the threat of having their names stricken from the rolls," said Jon Greenbaum, director of Voting Rights Project for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. "Computer matching is an unreliable means for checking eligibility and the district court's decision will jeopardize thousands of eligible voters' rights if it is implemented."  Mr. Greenbaum also noted that "the investigation undertaken by the Greene County Sheriff appeared to have no purpose other than to intimate voters based on the exercise of their right to vote guaranteed by the Constitution and by state law."

The coalition of voting rights groups that acted today in Ohio include the ACLU of Ohio, Project Vote, the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) and 1Matters.  Plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit include the Republican Party of Ohio and an individual Republican state legislator.


Election Protection
Election Protection is the nation's largest nonpartisan voter protection coalition, led by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Through its 1-866-OUR-VOTE Hotline (1-866-687-8683) and dedicated team of legal experts and trained volunteers, Election Protection helps all American voters, including traditionally disenfranchised groups, gain access to the polls and overcome obstacles to voting, offering live assistance. The coalition has more than 100 partners at the national, state and local level, and is providing live voter protection services now through Election Day for all 50 states. For more information about Election Protection and the 1-866-OUR-VOTE Hotline, please visit: www.866ourvote.org.

Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (LCCRUL), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. The principal mission of the Lawyers' Committee is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice under law, particularly in the areas of housing, community development, employment, voting, education and environmental justice.  For more information about the LCCRUL, visit www.lawyerscommittee.org.


Click here to download this press release as a PDF. 

Click here to download the brief. 

Click here to download the letter.