Voting is a cornerstone of our democracy, a key process that allows individuals from all demographics, regions, and walks of life to make their voices and values known. At the ACLU of Ohio, we believe that our lawmakers should be increasing voter access, not creating barriers to the ballot box and making it more difficult for historically marginalized communities to cast a ballot. That’s why when it came to HB 458, Ohio’s law criminalizing those who help voters with disabilities, we said: See you in court. 

An Overview

Signed into law by Governor DeWine in January 2023, HB 458 altered Ohio law by imposing several new restrictions on voting.  It severely restricts the types of acceptable identification for in-person voting, shortens key voter deadlines, limits the use of drop boxes, and imposes new criminal penalties on absentee ballot regulations. 

HB 458’s Impact on Voters 

The negative effects of this restrictive voting law reach voters far and wide – from college students and those without photo IDs to military members and out-of-state individuals. Adding insult to injury, HB 458 also specifically hinders voters with disabilities, many of whom require assistance from another person to vote. Under the law, which went into effect in April 2023, it is a felony for anyone who is not an election official or mail carrier to possess or return the absentee ballot of a voter, unless the person assisting that voter falls within a specific list of relatives. The list includes: a voter’s spouse, father, mother, father-in-law, mother-in-law, grandfather, grandmother, brother or sister of whole or half blood, son, daughter, adopting parent, adopted child, stepparent, stepchild, uncle, aunt, nephew, or niece. Notably, a voter’s adult grandchild, domestic partner, cousin, roommate, neighbor or other trusted friend or caregiver is not authorized to help. For many Ohioans with disabilities, this severely burdens their ability to vote.

HB 458 doesn’t protect voter access; it allows lawmakers to isolate a subset of voters who, along with all other Ohioans, deserve to be able to complete their civic duty. For those with mobility issues or other disabilities, it can be incredibly difficult to travel to a polling location or a county’s ballot drop box. This legislation does not permit professional caregivers or other trusted persons or associations to return someone’s absentee ballot for them. So these individuals and volunteers now face extreme, unnecessary penalties if they merely assist community members or perform their caregiving duties. 

See You in Court

On December 19, 2023, we filed a challenge against HB 458 along with the American Civil Liberties Union and the law firm of Covington & Burling, representing the League of Women Voters of Ohio and voter Jennifer Kucera. Jennifer is an Ohioan living by herself with a severe disability. Like many other individuals with disabilities, she relies on her caregivers to assist with various daily tasks. She cannot vote on her own.  Yet the people she depends on the most aren’t permitted to return her absentee ballot, even with her explicit consent. Many voters also rely on the critical efforts of respected organizations, like the League of Women Voters, to assist and offer voting support.

Our lawsuit specifically challenges the provision limiting which individuals may return absentee ballots for others, as it directly violates the Voting Rights Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This unlawful barrier not only hinders the right to vote for many Ohioans with disabilities, but also criminalizes the key work of voting rights organizations.  We are specifically requesting the court to declare that this provision violates federal law and to order Secretary LaRose and the other defendants named in the suit to ensure that people beyond the approved family members are included in HB 458. This will allow caregivers and other critical individuals to assist voters with disabilities without the threat of prosecution.

Partisan Actors Attempt to Mislead You

The Ohio GOP has moved to intervene in the lawsuit, claiming that they are defending a “ballot harvesting ban.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Don’t fall for this attempt to turn a narrow accessibility issue into some widespread "ballot harvesting” scheme. This litigation addresses only voters with disabilities who need assistance returning their ballot. Attempts to mischaracterize and politicize this civil rights issue are shameful. 

Whether voting by mail, early in person, or in person on Election Day, we stand committed to ensuring ALL Ohioans can cast their ballots without the hindrance of unnecessary and unconstitutional barriers introduced by Ohio lawmakers. Follow us on social media or join our Action Team to stay updated on this lawsuit and all our legal battles.