Voting Rights Press Release

08.29.06

Voting Rights Group Challenge Voter Intimidation Provision

Suit Challenges Unfair Burden on Naturalized Citizens When Casting Vote

CLEVELAND—Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio along with the Brennan Center, Lawyers’ Committee and the ACLU Voting Rights Project filed suit in Federal Court for the Northern District of Ohio challenging a section of Ohio House Bill 3.

The provision would allow poll workers to inquire if a voter is a naturalized citizen and require those voters to provide proof that they were naturalized. If they cannot provide proof at the polling place, the voter may cast a provisional ballot but has to go to the Board of Elections with documentation within 10 days of the election.

The law singles out one group of U.S. citizens and places an unfair extra burden on them to cast their ballot. The principle that every eligible voter should have equal access to the vote is a keystone of democracy.

The suit also claims that allowing poll workers to challenge someone’s ability to vote based on where they were born will open the door to ethnic and racial profiling and will almost certainly discourage voting by racial minorities and other immigrant groups.

Plaintiffs in the case include community organizations such as the Asian American Bar Association, the Council on American-Islamic Relations of Ohio and the Federation of India Community Associations. The suit also names nearly twenty individuals plaintiffs who represent naturalized U.S. citizens from around the state including community activists, doctors and lawyers.

The challenges allowed under HB 3 hearken back to the 2004 presidential election when partisan challengers in Ohio were allowed to question whether a person was an eligible voter or not. Civil rights and voter advocacy groups decried such tactics as last vestiges of voter intimidation laws such as Jim Crow.

Many naturalized citizens fled nations where voting was difficult and citizens had to show documentation in order to participate in society. After the strides the U.S. has made this year with renewing the Voting Rights Act, it is disappointing that many U.S. citizens are no more free to cast their ballot than when they lived under abusive regimes in other nations.

Cooperating attorneys with the ACLU of Ohio include Meredith Bell-Platts, Staff Attorney with the ACLU Voting Rights Project in Atlanta, Subodh Chandra, a Cleveland area attorney and Daniel P. Tokaji, Professor at OSU Moritz College of Law, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.