Voting Rights

Every Voter Should Be Allowed to Check Their Ballot

01.23.08

01.23.08

As valued ACLU members and supporters, we would like to inform you that the ACLU of Ohio filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Cleveland against Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner and the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections.

The ACLU of Ohio does not endorse one method of voting over another. Rather, we insist that whatever method is used—whether it involves a paper or electronic ballot—there must be a method for voters to check that ballot for errors at the polling place, before it is cast.

The question is not whether people will be able to vote at the March 4th primary—they will. What is at stake is whether voters can review their ballots, before they cast them, to ensure they are not rejected for errors.

The suit, filed on Thursday, January 17th, aims to stop the county from adopting a new voting system that does not allow voters to check their ballots for errors, which ultimately results in more people’s votes not being counted. Furthermore, this voting system has been proven to result in higher numbers of minority votes not being counted.

We had hoped to avoid this step. However, a voting system that does not allow voters to check their ballot risks the rejection of tens of thousands of votes. It also violates Ohio law.

We would like to explain why the ACLU of Ohio takes this position, and what is at stake if the Secretary of State is allowed to have her way.

Every Voter Should Be Allowed to Check Their Ballot

As you may know, in December 2007 Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner and the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections voted to replace its current electronic system with one using paper ballots. Why, with all the recent questions about the security of electronic voting, does the ACLU of Ohio oppose the Secretary of State’s alternative?

Electronic voting has a distinct advantage over paper ballots: it alerts voters if they have made a mistake—such as voting for more than one candidate in a particular race—before they cast their votes. Voters must correct these mistakes before their ballot is submitted.

By contrast, paper ballots do not provide a voter with notice of their errors. If they make an error while filling out a ballot, the voter is not automatically alerted. This means that his or her vote runs a substantial risk of being rejected.

We have urged the Secretary of State to include a mechanism at each polling place, to allow voters to check their ballots. Our pleas have been ignored.

We Have Proof That No Notice=Lost Votes

In the 2000 presidential election, over 94,000 Ohioans had their central count paper and punchcard ballots rejected statewide.

In Summit County, ten voting districts experienced rejected ballots at a rate of between ten and fifteen per cent. By contrast, Franklin County, which voted electronically (as we do today), the percentage of rejected ballots countywide was one-half of one per cent, or six times less than in Summit County.

Based on these circumstances, the ACLU of Ohio went to court, representing a group of Ohio voters in the case of Stewart v. Blackwell. This case challenged, under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the state’s use of the same paper ballot systems now proposed by Secretary Brunner and the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections.

The Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals concluded that voting with paper ballots, with no mechanism for checking mistakes, violated the equal protection rights of Ohio voters. This is the very system voters are being told they must use again, in less than fifty days.

We Adhere to a System of Standards

In a recent interview Secretary Brunner told the Cleveland Plain Dealer, “I’m doing what I think will work best.” Why is the ACLU of Ohio not letting the Secretary of State act on her impulses?

Above all, the ACLU of Ohio believes that there are certain basic standards that a voting system must meet:

  • Ballots and voting machines must let the voter check and correct their work;
  • Ballots and voting machines must allow the voter to verify that his or her vote has been counted;
  • Ballots and voting machines must be equally accessible to every voter, regardless of race, economic status, disability, geography, or any other factor that might make it more difficult for them to place their vote.

If these standards are not present, then the potential for discounted votes rises alarmingly.

Under the plan advocated by Secretary Brunner, none of these standards is present. Should her plan go forward, the potential for tens of thousands of rejected votes come Election Day is frighteningly real.

As a supporter of the ACLU, we know you have an appreciation for this complex situation.  Whatever your feelings about electronic voting, we ask that you give the same thoughtful consideration to this issue—the right and need to have every vote counted—as you do to so many other principles defended by the ACLU of Ohio.

We would be happy to answer any questions on this matter, and encourage you to contact us to clarify why we must preserve the current voting system, rather than discard it in haste.  Please feel free to contact us with questions or if you would like further information on this issue, or visit our VotingRights page.

Sincerely,

Christine Link
Executive Director

P.S. Again, please understand that the ACLU of Ohio does not endorse one method of voting over another. However, as Ohio law and the U.S. Constitution dictate, voters must be allowed to check their ballot for errors at the polling place, before it is cast. Our goal in filing this suit is to retain the ability of voters to ensure their ballot is correct.