Do We Believe the State Will Not Disenfranchise Voters?

There was nice coverage of the hearing yesterday in federal court by Associated Press Reporter Ann Sanner in the Akron Beacon Journal and the Columbus Dispatch and the Cincinnati Enquirer.  Why, in the home city of the lead plaintiff, NEOCH, was there no coverage?  I do not know.   But anyway, it was an interesting court hearing down in Columbus.  Our lawyers were in Federal Court asking for an extension of the agreement we finalized with the State of Ohio in 2010.  We have signed an agreement with the State over voters use of Identification before every election since the law was passed in the lame duck session of 2005. 

The attorney for the State of Ohio had the nerve to argue that we could not present one person who was denied the right to vote.  This should be our position for why to keep the agreement not the State's position.  We have had an agreement every election since 2006, and if we had found people who were denied the right to vote this would have meant that the state was in contempt of court.  This would mean that they were violating our agreements.  Thankfully, this has not happened, and nor have we ever been asked to come up with a person who was denied the right to vote.  The State was basically arguing that they do not need court supervision anymore in allowing people without identification to vote.  Basically, "trust them to keep people without identification from being disenfranchised."

Our wonderful attorney, Subodh Chandra handled the argument for SEIU and NEOCH the two lead plaintiffs argued that we cannot go back to the "Wild, Wild, West days" when the court was not strictly supervising the election.  In discovery, we found that many of the jurisdictions were not following the state directive in accepting Social Security numbers for the purpose of provisional ballots or were requiring people to come back to prove their identity in conflict with the directive from the State. This presented a problem where voters in Delaware were living under different voting rules than those residents of Cuyahoga County.   The court had already issued a permanent injunction forcing the state to accept voters who were told to vote at the wrong precinct within a polling place with multiple precincts.  With all the lawsuits against the State of Ohio in 2012 (weekend voting, early voting hours, id, etc), it is a tough argument to make, "Trust us; we want everyone to vote."

There was a great deal of back and forth about the reason for an extension and does it meet the district court guidance for extending court supervised agreements.  NEOCH and the other plaintiffs thought that the State would have corrected all this vague language in the original 2005 by this point.  We never could have imagined that the State legislature would have allowed all these problems with the definition of a veteran's ID or active military or what is a utility to persist for 8 years.  The State's attorney, Richard Coglianese representing the Attorney General said in open court that the current Secretary of State was committed to keeping the directives defining identification in place even without the agreement.  This again seemed strange since that would argue for our side that there is no reason to extend the agreement since the State is pledging to keep the directives contained in the agreement in place. 

We have asked for an indefinite extension or at least until 2021.  We tried mediation and the state was unwilling to extend the agreement.  It is almost certain that the decision will go to the Appeals Court. There was a good back and forth in the Beacon Journal article over Husted's commitment to letting all voters cast a ballot. 

Brian Davis

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