Sherrod Brown Voting Letter

The letter below is from US Senator Sherrod Brown was sent to the US Justice Department in September asking for their involvement in the attempts to undermine the Voting Rights Act in Ohio.  We believe that many of the tactics passed in Ohio this last year are just further attempts  to undermine minority and poor people voting in Ohio.  These "legislative fixes" go back to to 2005 with the addition of the identification requirements and changing the counting of provisional ballots.  We have also seen a reduction in the number of days to early vote and the popular Sunday voting that were embraced by African American churches.  The past two Republican Secretaries of States have embraced attempts to make it harder for people to vote under the guise of "securing the ballot box."  All of these tricks have been used by one party to dilute or even block voters who traditionally support the other political party.  We hope that the Justice Department will take up this issue.  

Congresswoman Marcia Fudge has also sent a similar letter asking for Justice Department to investigate Ohio's voting procedures.  Both letters are below.

United States Senate

Washington DC 20510-3505

September 3, 2015

 

Honorable Loretta E. Lynch

Attorney General

Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, DC  20530

Dear Attorney General Lynch:

A number of organizations in Oho have filed suit against Ohio’s Secretary of State alleging, among other things, that two bills recently passed by the Ohio General Assembly will unlawfully disenfranchise thousands of Ohio voters who cast absentee or provisional ballots.  Under Senate Bill 216 and Senate Bill 205, election workers are required to reject absentee and provisional ballots for immaterial reasons for Ohioans who are eligible and registered to vote.  If these provisions are not permanently enjoined they will have a disproportionate impact on African-American and poor voters who have historically cast a high percentage of absentee and provisional ballots.  Plaintiffs, the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, et al., seek the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) intervention in this matter. 

I ask that you give their request your full and fair consideration.

Under the Voting Rights Act (VRA), the Attorney General has broad authority to undertake investigation into and litigation regarding changes in voting practices and procedure.  Section 2 of the VRA prohibits voting practices and procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, color, or membership in a language minority group.  Section 2 applies not only when there is a racially discriminatory intent, but also when procedures and practices are shown to have a racially discriminatory result. Plaintiffs assert that this is the effect of these laws.  As a former Ohio Secretary of State, I share their concerns. 

Moreover, the DOJ has a long history of intervening in cases exactly like this one.  As recently as last year, DOJ filed a statement of interest in NAACP v. Husted, a challenge to an Ohio statute curtailing early voting and same-day registration.  Plaintiffs believe that DOJ intervention is similarly critical in this case because under current, Sixth-Circuit precedent, the DOJ is the only entity with standing regarding one of the key issues in question:  whether under the VRA it is proper for the state to reject ballots with minor errors or omissions in data provided by voters or gathered by election officials.

Ohio has a long history of election problems.  In 2004, a shortage of voting machines in minority and student neighborhoods led to long waits at the polls.  In response to these problems, the state expanded access by introducing several measures including early voting and same-day registration.  While these changes have helped to increase turnout, in recent years there have been numerous attempts to limit access to the ballot.

These attempts include cutting early voting hours, gerrymandering districts to dilute the voting power of minorities, mandating uniform voting hours for the entire state, overt discrimination against naturalized U.S. citizens, attempts to discard legitimate ballots even where poll workers erred in misdirecting voters, and eliminating the “Golden Week” when voters can register and vote at the same time.  Voting-rights advocates have sued the state for these restrictive practices.  In April 2015, one of these suits was settled, restoring some early voting hours and reinstating the “Golden Week.” And federal courts have ruled in at least two cases in the last nine years that Ohio is engaged in unconstitutional voting practices.

In the wake of Shelby County vs. Holder, DOJ has an interest in taking all steps necessary to uphold the constitutional right to vote for all Americans.  Few rights are more fundamental. As a nation, we should be removing barriers to the ballot box, not creating them.  Our democracy is stronger when everyone is able to participate in it.  Unfortunately, in the last few years, there has been systematic effort in far too many states—including my home state of Ohio—to restrict the right to vote.

I appreciate your efforts to safeguard the rights of all Americans, as well as your full and fair consideration of this matter.  Thank you.

Sincerely,

Sherrod Brown

United States Senator

cc:    Vanita Gupta, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Pamela Karlan, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights

Below is a copy of the poll tax receipt of 1924, which was one of the ways to restrict access to the ballot box in the pre-1965 Jim Crow South.  Today, we have to pay for identification, birth certificates, or vote by provisional ballot which may or may not be counted depending on the will of the local board of elections

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