When you go to register to vote or go to the polls, the last thing on your mind is that there may be deliberate, subtle voter suppression techniques at work to eliminate some of the ballots. A Federal Judge agreed that is exactly what was happening in Ohio causing NEOCH and other plaintiffs (The Ohio Democratic Party and the Columbus Coalition for the Homeless) to win a lawsuit that was putting illegitimate requirements on how absentee ballots were determined legitimate and counted. The judge agreed that “technical errors”, obvious typos and honest mistakes were not reason to throw out ballots when it was still easy to determine the identity of the voter.
The 2014 laws which were put into effect by a Republican controlled Ohio Congress required that ballots be thrown out if there were errors in them. Unfortunately many of these errors were made by Senior Citizens, many of whom were in their 70’s and 80’s and simply just wanted to vote. They walked away thinking that they had voted, only to have their ballots rejected, discarded and uncounted.
The overturning of these laws is a huge victory for the voters in our state. Literally thousands of ballots have been thrown out since these laws were enacted in 2014. Many of them removed legitimate votes from sincere people who simply made a mistake. The BOE was able to determine the voter’s identity, but the ballot still was discarded. So, if a person had trouble reading the ballot or misunderstood something or made a mistake, their right to vote was lost. Voting should be a simple and easy process for everyone, especially the elderly, but has become a test of reading, writing and attention skills.
We are very thankful that NEOCH, the Ohio Democratic Party and the Columbus Coalition for the Homeless got together and fought the State of Ohio to assure that these unethical laws were abolished and that people in Ohio can rest easy knowing their right to vote is being protected. Our side explained the history of voter suppression activities in the state legislation. There were concerns from the witnesses to overturn this law over racist billboards and highly offensive comments by Ohio political leaders about lower income minority voters. We attempted to refute the state's case that this only impacted a smaller number of voters so it is not a big deal. Brian raised the concern that the Secretary of State was championing the dozen of fraudulent voters (out of millions cast) in his Annual Report to voters while not mentioning the thousands of legitimate voters who lost their right to vote because they were not careful in reading, understanding and putting down their information.
We have to congratulate our attorney Subodh Chandra and the woman who did a ton of the work on the case locally, Sandhya Gupta. Ms. Gupta gave up sleep for a month to answer all the State's questions and respond to all the depositions. She did an amazing amount of work on this case and we are so glad that all her work paid off. Ms. Gupta was so supportive and such a quiet yet powerful advocate for voter rights in Ohio. Thanks to Caroline Gentry and Don McTigue for all their work making the case for counting every legitimate vote cast in the election.
Find other coverage of this story here:
http://www.cleveland.com/open/index.ssf/2016/06/federal_judge_finds_ohio_laws.html http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/court-blocks-another-set-voting-restrictions-ohio http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/08/us/federal-judge-says-2-ohio-voting-laws-are-unconstitutional.html?_r=0