The right to vote has been called the “vital principle of self-government and individual liberty.” When you register to vote and participate in elections, you play a critical role in preserving our democracy. Visit our Vote Center for more information about voting in Ohio and your rights.
What's Happening in Ohio
The Voting Rights Act of 1968 (VRA) is one of the most significant civil rights advancements in modern history. We are urging Senator Rob Portman to co-sponsor legislation to fully restore it.
In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a key piece of the VRA. As a result, states, counties and municipalities with a history of disenfranchising minority voters no longer had to seek federal approval before changing their voting laws. The very next day after the Supreme Court decision, Texas and Mississippi officials made plans to enforce new photo ID laws that had previously been blocked by the VRA. Since then, the deluge of restrictions has continued.
The Voting Rights Advancement Act (VRAA) will compel states with a well-documented history of voting discrimination to clear voting changes with the federal government, seek federal approval for voter ID laws and prohibit changes to election rules that might make it more difficult for voters of color to cast a ballot. This requirement will ensure that voters are not unfairly discriminated against, have equal access to the ballot, and have their vote counted in the November 2016 presidential election.
The VRAA has bi-partisan support in the U.S. Senate. Urge Senator Rob Portman to co-sponsor the VRAA and safeguard the right to vote for all eligible voters.
Updated 5/27/16: SB 296 has been passed in the Ohio Senate and the Ohio House. It is now on the governor’s desk awaiting his signature. The ACLU of Ohio has written a letter to Gov. John Kasich, urging him to veto this bill. Contact Gov. Kasich and tell him to veto this attack on voting rights.
Ohio lawmakers want to tie the hands of courts and prevent them from stepping in to protect your voting rights.
Imagine heading to the polls and when you get there all the machines are malfunctioning or there is no power at the center. You wait for an hour, but have to leave to go to work or pick up your children. It might be difficult for you to get back to the polls before 7:30 p.m.
SB 296 could tie the hands of courts to keep polls open later so that voters who were disenfranchised through no fault of their own can have time to cast their ballots. It would require that any voter who asks a court to extend polling hours to pay tens of thousands of dollars to cover the pay for every poll worker in the county.
Extending poll hours is a last resort for voters who have been disenfranchised because of malfunctioning equipment, inclement weather, or other technical problems. It’s critical that we keep this option open for courts to help those who were kept from casting their ballots through no fault of their own.
For the 2015 general election on November 3, Ohioans have an unprecedented opportunity to defend their civil liberties by voting on three amendments to the Ohio constitution: yes on Issue 1, no on Issue 2, and yes on Issue 3. The ACLU of Ohio supports redistricting reform (Issue 1) and the legalization of marijuana (Issue 3), but opposes the Ohio Initiated Monopolies Amendment (Issue 2).
Yes on 1
Issue 1 seeks to overhaul Ohio’s partisan system for drawing legislative district maps, a system that has helped one party, either Republicans or Democrats, hold firm control of the Statehouse for decades. It would protect against gerrymandering by prohibiting any redistricting plan from primarily favoring one political party.
Issue 1 will:
- Create a new seven-member bipartisan panel called the “Ohio Redistricting Commission.” The commission must have at least two members from the minority party. It’s to be co-chaired by two members, one chosen by each party.
- Make all commission meetings open to the public. The commission must hold a minimum of three public hearings, and before voting on a district plan, the commission is required to present the proposal to the public and to seek public input.
- Keep communities together by requiring a district plan to split as few counties, municipal corporations, and townships as possible.
- Require at least two votes from each party in order to approve a district plan.
- Create a process for the Supreme Court of Ohio to order the commission to redraw the map if the plan favors one political party.
No on 2
For over a century, Ohioans have had the power to directly amend the state constitution by putting key issues on the ballot. This year, however, Issue 2 would change Ohio’s democratic process to make it harder for certain citizen-initiated constitutional amendments to pass.
Getting initiatives on the ballot in Ohio is difficult and expensive. Citizens should have a reasonable opportunity to put forth a viable ballot initiative.
Read more ↕
Issue 2 will:
- Require voters to approve two questions pertaining to citizen initiatives establishing economic monopolies. Ohio lawmakers crafted Issue 2 in response to the Marijuana Legalization Initiative (Issue 3), which would create 10 facilities with exclusive rights to commercially grow the drug.
- Invalidate any voter-approved initiatives on this year’s ballot that establishes economic monopolies. It would expressly nullify Issue 3 or marijuana legalization.
Yes on 3
In 2012, Ohio law enforcement officers arrested or cited 14,374 people for marijuana-related offenses—94 percent for possession only. Marijuana arrests cost Ohio taxpayers over $120 million in 2010 alone. These arrests are a huge conduit to the judicial system, branding tens of thousands with criminal records and often severely limiting their potential positive impact to themselves, their families and communities thereafter—despite Ohio “decriminalizing” possession of less than 100 grams of marijuana.
Bottom line: the war on drugs is an expensive failure when directed against the marijuana consumer. Over half our country doesn’t think holding small amounts should be a criminal offense. The proposed measure specifies the legal use, cultivation and sale of marijuana in Ohio.
Read more ↕
Issue 3 will:
- Legalize the limited sale and use of recreational and medicinal marijuana and create 10 facilities with exclusive rights to commercially grow the drug.
- Allow anyone at least 21 years old with a valid state license to use, possess, grow, cultivate, and share up to eight ounces of homegrown marijuana and four flowering marijuana plants. It would also allow them to purchase, possess, transport, use and share up to one ounce of marijuana.
- Allow anyone with a certified debilitating medical condition to use medicinal marijuana.
If Issue 3 passes:
- The Fresh Start Act would expunge the records of people convicted of most marijuana-related crimes. The Fresh Start Act, if passed either by the Ohio General Assembly or as a ballot initiative, would give Ohioans with previous marijuana-related offenses a much needed second chance in life.
For more information about your voting rights and early voting opportunities, visit the ACLU Vote Center.
The online voter registration bill that passed the Ohio Senate by a landslide 31-to-1 vote on June 24 demonstrates that online voter registration might finally have some momentum in our legislature.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio has strongly supported online voter registration, especially as it benefits those with disabilities. Registering to vote online can save time, improve election accuracy and efficacy, increase participation in the electoral process, and reduce costs to Ohio boards of elections.
For more information on this important initiative, please read these articles:
- Online for All: ACLU Ohio’s Online Registration Page
- Access Denied: Barriers to Online Voter Registration
- SB 63 – ACLU Ohio Supports Online Registration
- Karla M. Lortz: Advocating for Online Registration
- Online Voter Registration on its Way to Reality!
- One Pastor Moves Voter Registration Mountains
- Katie’s Story, Online for All
- Voter Registration: Joining the 21st Century
- “Online For All” Makes All the Sense in the World
- Ohio’s Voting Record: Ready to Hit a Grand Slam?
Every 10 years, the federal government carries out a census that leads to the redrawing of congressional and state legislative lines to take population changes into account. However, every state has its own procedure for redrawing these lines. There are some requirements, like districts must have nearly equal populations and must not discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity.
How Ohio Does It Now
The Ohio General Assembly redraws the congressional lines, subject to gubernatorial veto. On the other hand, the Apportionment Board is responsible for redrawing the state legislative lines. The political commission consists of five-members: the governor, the secretary of state, the auditor, a commission member appointed by the speaker of the Ohio House, and a commission member from the minority political party recommended by the House minority leader.
Read more ↕
The method of redrawing lines in Ohio often leads to gerrymandered districts—the manipulation of district boundaries that favors one party over another. If one party has control of the Ohio General Assembly, and the Executive Branch, the voice of the minority party is sidelined.
After the 2010 U.S. Census, Republicans controlled both houses of the general assembly, as well as the Executive Branch. Republicans packed the Democrats into four congressional districts while giving themselves 12 congressional districts.
Gerrymandering is a serious threat to the civil liberties of Ohioans. During the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, the power at the state level was more equitable between both Democrats and Republicans. Since the 2000s, Republicans have controlled all three branches of Ohio. Republicans gained control and redrew the lines to keep returning their majority delegations to Columbus and Washington. In the last two elections, Republicans got 75 percent of the congressional seats in Ohio, with just 55 percent of the vote. Therefore, gerrymandering results in unfair and unequal representation, shuts out the minority voice, and undermines the value of one’s vote.
A Possible Solution to Gerrymandering
The Ohio Bipartisan Redistricting Commission Amendment 2015, now known as the Fair Districts for Ohio ballot initiative, is a possible solution to the problem of gerrymandering state legislative districts. Both the Ohio House and Senate approved the amendment with bipartisan support to appear on the ballot as Issue One in the general election on November 3, 2015. If the majority of people vote in favor of Issue One, it would go into effect on January 1, 2021. It’s important to note that Issue One only applies to state legislative districts and not congressional districts.
Issue One would replace the Apportionment Board with the Ohio Redistricting Commission (ORC). With the current setup of the Apportionment Board, the minority party is represented, but outnumbered if the other party controls all three branches of state government. The ORC would consist of seven members: the governor, the auditor, the secretary of state and four people appointed by both the majority and minority leaders in the General Assembly.
Issue One proposes several mechanisms that will prevent one party from hijacking the process and will give Ohioans an opportunity to voice their concerns, including:
- If officials are unable to approve a plan by the deadline, the governor, the auditor, and the secretary of state can create their own plan with a simple majority vote; however, the redistricting plan will only go into effect for four years, with the commission reconvening to redraw the map.
- If the redistricting plan is found unconstitutional in court, the commission will have to reconvene and create a new redistricting plan before the next election.
- Officials have to hold at least three public meetings before voting on the plan.
In 2014, the Ohio General Assembly passed and Governor Kasich signed Senate Bill 238 that made it significantly harder to vote by slashing early voting opportunities. The ACLU of Ohio recently reached an agreement with the Ohio Secretary of State to allow Ohioans to vote on multiple Sundays leading up to a presidential election and restored access to additional events voting hours for all elections.
An article and two editorials discuss the impact of the last-minute U.S. Supreme Court decision on September 29 that cut Ohio’s early voting from 35 days to 28 days, eliminated same-day registration, and evening and multiple Sunday voting:
- Article: “Why early voting is about so much more than convenience”—The Washington Post
- Editorial: “Not so early” —The Toledo Blade.
- Editorial: “Supreme Court stay wrongly narrows Ohioans’ early-voting rights” —Cleveland.com
Update – 04.17.15: Ohio Voters Gain Greater Access to Ballot in ACLU Settlement
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court today stayed lower court rulings that restored early voting opportunities in Ohio prior to full trial and in time for the midterm election. The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging a state law and directives that have dramatically slashed early voting opportunities. A federal judge and Sixth Circuit appeals panel have already ruled for the ACLU’s position, prompting the state’s appeal to the Supreme Court.
“While not a final decision on the merits of the case, this is a real loss for Ohio voters, especially those who must use evenings, weekends and same-day voter registration to cast their ballot,” said ACLU of Ohio Legal Director Freda Levenson. “Early voting works-cutting popular days and hours is unnecessary and only hurts voters. To make it even worse, this last-minute decision will cause tremendous confusion among Ohioans about when and how they can vote.”
More information about this case is at:
Read the U.S. Supreme Court decision.
For more information about your right to vote, go to www.acluohio.org/vote.
Update – 04.17.15: Ohio Voters Gain Greater Access to Ballot in ACLU Settlement
The ACLU brought the complaint on behalf of the Ohio Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the League of Women Voters of Ohio, and several African-American churches.
It seeks to strike down Ohio Senate Bill 238, a 2014 law that eliminates the first week of early voting in Ohio. The suit is also challenging a 2014 Husted directive that further slashes the early voting period by eliminating all Sundays, the Monday before Election Day, and all evening voting hours.
The complaint, NAACP v. Husted, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Eastern Division.
Read our press release for more information.
Update – 04.17.15: Ohio Voters Gain Greater Access to Ballot in ACLU Settlement
Update – 09.29.14: Due to an order by the U.S. Supreme Court, Ohio’s early voting period has changed. Read our press release: ACLU Comment on Supreme Court Action on Ohio Early Voting.
Update – 09.26.14
This past week there has been a lot of legal activity concerning Ohio’s early voting opportunities:
- On September 24, a three-judge panel from the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Federal District Judge Economus’ September 4 order restoring early voting opportunities in the ACLU and ACLU of Ohio’s voting rights case NAACP v. Husted.
- The same day, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted challenged the Sixth Circuit panel decision by requesting that the case be reviewed by the full court.
- On the next day, September 25, the ACLU and ACLU of Ohio filed a response with the appeals court to deny the request.
- At the same time, the state filed a request with the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the ruling from going into effect.
If the Supreme Court denies the state’s request, early voting opportunities will stay the same. However, if the Supreme Court approves the state’s request, early voting would start on October 7 rather than September 30, and same-day registration, evening hours, and a second Sunday of early voting would be eliminated.
Update – 09.08.14
On September 4, 2014, Judge Economus granted the ACLU’s motion for preliminary injunction, preventing the cuts to evening and weekend voting and elimination of Golden Week from going into effect for the November 2014 election. Judge Economus’ ruling restored Golden Week, added a second Sunday of early in-person voting, and directed Secretary Husted to set evening voting hours during the last two weeks of the early voting period. The State has appealed the decision, and that appeal is pending before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Update 08.04.14: Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted cast a tie-breaking vote allowing the Hamilton County Board of Elections (BOE) to move their operations to suburban Mount Airy. With this tie-breaking vote, Husted allows the BOE to move early voting from its current downtown location; however, he urged the board to develop a compromise on where to hold early, in-person voting. The ACLU of Ohio continues to advocate for an early, in-person voting site in downtown Cincinnati where it will best serve all voters.
In February of 2014, the Hamilton County Board of Elections debated whether to move the county’s early voting site from its current location in downtown Cincinnati to the suburb of Mt. Airy, where few bus lines run. During the board’s hyper-partisan debates, they lost site of what is in the best interest of Hamilton County voters, many of whom are low-income, inner-city residents who do not own cars and rely instead on public transportation (or their own two feet) to get to the polls.
Here are maps that illustrate the problem (click to enlarge):
Transplanting early voting 10 miles away from the central hub of downtown Cincinnati to a suburb with limited access to public transportation will dramatically reduce access to the polls for these voters.
Early voting should be centrally located, with plenty of access for public transportation. The current downtown location fulfills both of these major criteria.
Most importantly, the bi-partisan Hamilton County Board of Elections should live up to its name by looking out for the best interest of all voters, regardless of their political persuasion. The best way to do that is to keep early voting downtown. Continue telling the Hamilton County Board of Elections to keep early, in-person voting downtown.
Update – 02.24.14: Despite calls from voting rights advocates, editorial boards and civil libertarians across the state to stop making it harder to vote, the Ohio General Assembly has passed S.B. 238 and Governor John Kasich has signed the bill into law.
Along with S.B. 238, Kasich signed S.B. 205, another controversial voting bill that makes it less likely voters will receive absentee ballots while making it easier for elections officials to reject those ballots if voters make a mistake.
The ACLU of Ohio will continue to fight these regressive voting bills and we will keep you informed of new opportunities for action as they become available.
Several bills are pending in the Ohio General Assembly that will reduce access to the polls. The fastest moving is Senate Bill 238, which will shave a week off of early voting and eliminate the brief window of time where voters can register and cast an early ballot on the same day.
It’s not likely to stop there. Soon legislators will be talking about even deeper cuts to early in-person voting limits, as well as absentee ballot restrictions, and stricter voter ID laws.
Update – 03.20.15: A federal court determined that the statute cannot bar minor parties from petitioning to enter elections held in odd-numbered years. The ruling also cautions state officials not to attempt at some later date to apply the law in a manner inconsistent with that interpretation. Read the press release.
On November 6, the Ohio General Assembly passed Senate Bill 193, and Governor Kasich immediately signed it into law. SB 193 establishes new regulations for the participation of minor political parties in Ohio elections.
SB 193 will severely limit the ability of minor parties to participate in the political process. Under the new law, third parties now need to collect at least 500 signatures from at least half of the state’s congressional districts in order to gain recognition from the state. In some cases, candidates will need signatures from citizens who have not voted in primary elections for a different political party for the past two years, which is not easy in Ohio’s closed primary system. The law also prohibits minor parties from holding primaries, making it extremely difficult for them to establish statewide support. These are just a few examples of the many problematic regulations established by this law, which has already prompted a federal lawsuit.
This deeply flawed law takes the power away from voters to decide which parties and candidates deserve support and effectively regulates minor parties out of the political process. Read ACLU of Ohio testimony against SB 193, and for more information on this bill, visit our legislation page.
The Secretary of State oversees the election process in each of Ohio’s 88 counties, and registration is required to vote. Information about registering and voting is available at the elections and voting page of the Ohio Secretary of State’s website.
Ohioans can also participate in elections by becoming poll workers, and high school seniors who are at least 17 years old can be excused from school for one day to work the polls. For more information go to our student poll worker page, or contact the local board of elections.
An amendment has been added to the massive state budget bill (HB 59) designed to make it more difficult for students to vote in their college communities. This amendment would require public colleges and universities to charge the in-state tuition rate (as opposed to the higher out of state tuition rate) to any student issued proof of residency for voting purposes.
Supporters claim the amendment is aimed at lowering tuition. In reality, the provision is intended to suppress the vote. By stripping away hundreds of millions of dollars in funding from schools that provide proof of residency to out-of-state students, schools will have little choice but to stop providing this documentation. The result? Students will have a harder time voting – even though they have every legal right to vote in their college communities.
This amendment has passed the Ohio House and is now in the Senate.
Update – 05.29.13: Ohioans across the state took action on this issue. As a result, the Ohio Senate Finance Committee removed this amendment from HB 59.
In the aftermath of the 2012 presidential election, the ACLU of Ohio received numerous reports of voter and poll worker confusion on Election Day. Common complaints included confusion over voter ID requirements and polling locations, and an overreliance on provisional ballots.
As a non-profit, non-partisan organization, our goal is to ensure that every citizen is able to exercise his or her right to vote, free from unnecessary barriers and restrictions. We urge that any voting reform include:
- Extended, uniform early in-person voting hours, to ensure that voters across the state have more access to vote.
- Permanent funding to send absentee ballot applications to all registered voters during presidential and gubernatorial general elections.
- Clear rules for casting and counting of provisional ballots.
- Increased use of technology, such as online voter registration and electronic poll books.
On June 29, 2011, the Ohio legislature passed House Bill 194, which makes a variety of misguided changes to Ohio’s voting system. The bill includes a provision that poll workers are no longer required to assist voters. However, the Americans with Disabilities Act still requires poll workers to assist voters with disabilities if they need help completing their ballot.
Updated 12.20.12: After voting rights advocates and many concerned citizens across the state took action, HB 159 failed in the Ohio General Assembly at the end of the 2011-2012 session.
Thanks to the efforts of activists and advocacy groups, the Ohio General Assembly has not yet passed House Bill 159. However, the OGA will continue to debate the bill, which would be the most restrictive in the country. Under the new law, Ohioans could only vote with one of the following IDs:
- Ohio driver’s license,
- Ohio state ID card,
- Military photo ID, or
- U.S. Passport.
H.B. 159 could deny the right to vote to thousands who do not have the limited identification accepted and would disproportionately affect low-income, disabled, racial and ethnic minorities, college students, and elderly. The measure has even been opposed by Republican Secretary of State John Husted, who recognized that it is unnecessary and costly. Click here for one real life example.
Updated 05.08.12: Ohio lawmakers repealed HB 194 on May 8, 2012.
In March 2012, Secretary of State Jon Husted began to advocate the repeal of the controversial HB 194, arguing that it should be scrapped and reexamined after the November 2012 election with legislation that is more bipartisan. Theoretically, repealing HB 194 would render a voter referendum unnecessary, though repealing a law that is under voter referendum is constitutionally unprecedented.
Ohio Republicans have latched onto the repeal plan. Despite Husted’s advice to wait until after the election before exploring any new legislation, some legislators have suggested they might try to replace HB 194 with a new voter suppression bill before the November 2012 election. The ACLU of Ohio strongly opposes any additional changes to voting laws before the presidential election, except to repeal all voter suppression laws that were passed in 2011.
The Ohio General Assembly is currently negotiating the terms of a possible HB 194 repeal. However, some legislators do not want to restore early in-person voting in the three days leading up to the election. Early voting was wildly popular among many Ohioans in 2008, when African-American churches used it to mount “Souls to the Polls” campaigns bringing congregations to boards of elections to vote.
On Monday, May 7, 2012, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), held a congressional hearing at the Carl B. Stokes United States Court House in Cleveland. This hearing examined the impact of HB 194, which restricts early voting, eliminates the requirement that poll workers direct voters to the proper precinct, and makes it harder to vote absentee. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) joined Durbin at the hearing and the ACLU offered testimony on the negative impact HB 194 would have on Ohio elections.
In September 2011, the ACLU of Ohio joined voting rights advocates, state legislators, and labor unions to support a referendum on Ohio House Bill 194, which would severely limit early voting, prohibit poll workers from assisting voters completing forms, and make it more difficult for local boards of elections to promote early voting to all registered voters.
Secretary of State Husted certified the referendum on December 9, 2011. This means H.B. 194 will not be in effect through the November 2012 election, where voters will decide if it should be rejected.
Access to the ballot by minor parties is an important function of democracy. Read the August 2011 Columbus Dispatch article: Libertarian Party sues over minor party access limits in new law.
On June 29, 2011, the Ohio legislature passed House Bill 194, legislation which makes a variety of misguided changes to Ohio’s voting system. The short lines and uncomplicated voting process during 2008’s record voting turnout will be replaced by long waits, confused voters, and a glut of provisional ballots. Provisions of the new legislation include:
- Drastically cutting the timeframe for early in-person voting to 16 days from 35 days;
- Preventing counties from mailing absentee ballot applications to residents; and
- Eliminating the requirement for poll workers to help voters find their right precinct.
During a session on July 13, 2011, the Ohio General Assembly passed a bill that corrects one of H.B. 194’s flaws. The bill eliminates the requirement for voters to provide their full Social Security number in order to vote a provisional ballot. Unfortunately, the bill also eliminates online registration and the voter’s ability to present an ID at their local Board of Election before the polls close, if they didn’t have it while voting.
Read testimony in opposition to these measures here.
Read about voting rights lawsuits filed by the ACLU in Ohio in 2006 and 2008.