This is Why We Sued the State Over Voting

There are two article in the Columbus Dispatch and Cleveland Plain Dealer here about the voting issues in Ohio.  Why is the Homeless Coalition involved in this lawsuit?

We feel this is a continuation of our lawsuit from 2006 in which there was a settlement in 2010.  We had an agreement with the state that legitimate provisional ballots would be counted.  This new law undermines that issue.  As the Columbus area Board of Elections official admitted legitimate ballots were discarded.

“It was not any fault of our people,” Anthony said. “They were backed into a corner. They could not approve them. And I think that’s a shame. … I just think the law needs to change.” William Anthony of the Franklin County Board of Elections (Columbus Dispatch article).

The Cuyahoga County officials in depositions said that they try not to discard ballots.  Upon closer examination there were many legitimate ballots thrown away and the defense was that the voters have to "take responsibility" for completing the ballot correctly.  We looked through every discarded ballot in Cuyahoga County and it was amazing seeing these voters trying to navigate the paperwork and failing.  There were many elderly who had an issue understanding the form or who made simple errors.  There were guys in jail who did not understand that a jail cannot be used as a residence.  There were people who made simple errors but it was clear that you could determine their identity.  They made a clerical error and their ballot was tossed.  Board of Elections staff who made errors faced no such punishment, and the response was just "Oh, Well..."

The State has said that the single biggest reason for discarding ballots is those who are not registered so these others thrown out are not that big of a deal?  This is a horrible argument. There were elderly women in nursing homes who tried to participate in the voting process as they had done for 40 years and had their ballot tossed in many of the urban centers of Ohio.  The State does not consider this a big issue.  There were those with a fourth grade reading level who had trouble with the envelope for vote by mail or early voting and had their ballot dropped in the trash.  The State seems to feel that this is not a big issue.  Just because only one half of one percent of the encounters between white police officers and African Americans goes badly does not mean that it is not a problem. 

The other argument that the State made was that this was actually an improvement in the law because when a voter uses the new Provisional ballot forms it can change their registration so that in the future they will have updated their address with the Board.  This is also silly since in 2012 and before there were always blank registration cards available to change a person's address at the precincts or at the Board of Elections for early voting.  This was a solution looking for a problem to solve.  The state is saying that we had to disenfranchise thousands of voters in order to help a few with a problem that never existed.  

This is a literary test and a barrier for the disabled to vote.  The state says that disabled and illiterate can admit to a stranger that they have this issue with reading or have a disability and need help.  It was also interesting that the rural communities (Meigs, Wyandot) were more forgiving compared to the urban centers (Cuyahoga, Franklin, Lorain and Summit Counties).  The more rural communities said things like "we knew who they are and could see that they just made an error so we counted their vote."  And by the way these were Republicans, while the Democrats in urban communities said, "That was the law, and sorry they lost their vote, but we were only following the law and directives from the State."   The results of the law are racist and depress low income voter turnout.  

I was surprised that the State was even willing to defend this law.  There was very little oversight and all 88 counties seem to have different interpretations of the law.  We saw some reject as few as 2% of votes questioned while others rejected nearly 24% of those subject to further review.   Who would defend throwing away legitimate ballots that everyone agreed we could determine their eligibility?  There was no fraud or conspiracy in the voting process.  There was no need for this law.  If there was no call for this legislation and no problem to solve, we are left with this has to be voter suppression of a certain group of voters.  What is the demographics of voters living in urban centers of Akron, Cleveland and Lorain, and who do these voters traditionally vote for?  Then you look at which party voted for these laws, and you see an answer for why these laws were passed. 

State Representative Kathleen Clyde did a wonderful job of documenting the reasons behind these changes in the law and how the majority party in Ohio ignored all the warnings that good government groups were giving in opposition to these changes.  She detailed how Democrats opposed these changes and warned that legitimate voters would be disenfranchised.  Former State Senator Nina Turner also testified about the impact of this law on the local community and the level of racism that existed in our communities during the 2012 election.  Thanks to both of these elected leaders for taking a stand against injustice especially when the issue is so fundamental to our democracy as our right to vote. 

Brian Davis

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