WASHINGTON, D. C.- The American Civil Liberties Union filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the United States Supreme Court today asking them to defend voters in Ohio from attempts to challenge their registration based on small inaccuracies in government databases. The lawsuit was originally filed by the Ohio Republican Party to require Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner to provide all 88 county Boards of Elections with lists of mismatched voters that had discrepancies between the information on their registration forms and other government databases. To protect the integrity of Ohio’s electoral process, the ACLU’s brief supports the Secretary of State’s position.
“Over 200,000 Ohioans stand to be disenfranchised by this last ditch effort to keep people away from the ballot box. Most of these inaccuracies are not the fault of the voters and often due to typos, misspellings, or hyphenated names. With only three weeks until we cast our ballots, voters cannot afford political maneuvering to hamper their access to the ballot box,” said ACLU of Ohio Staff Counsel Carrie Davis.
After the contentious 2000 presidential election, Congress enacted the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). The main purpose behind HAVA was to make the election process more accessible for voters and to remove some of the problems that plagued that election. One of the major reforms was to create a uniform, statewide list of all registered voters, rather than disconnected lists in each individual county.
The statewide database was created to ensure no voter was wrongfully removed from the voter registration lists, as was prevalent before HAVA. The decision by the U. S Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit to compel Secretary Brunner to provide other information to county Boards of Elections directly conflicts with this and could encourage county boards to create different voter registration lists and process voters differently. If this program goes forward, a failed match could result in hundreds of thousands of voters being purged from the rolls, challenged at the polls or required to cast a provisional ballot.
“Because of a typo on his registration records, 'Joe the Plumber' would be disenfranchised if this flawed program is allowed to go forward. Using error-prone, unreliable government databases to challenge voters is unlawful and will only add confusion and chaos to the voting process,” said Meredith Bell-Platts, staff counsel with the ACLU Voting Rights Project. “If county Boards of Elections are able to unilaterally decide who is put on a voter registration list or not, we are inviting the same problems that marred the 2000 presidential election. Congress instituted these reforms to shield voters from partisan ploys, yet we are stripping away these vital protections when voters need them most.”
On October 9, 2008, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio sided with the Ohio Republican Party and ordered Brunner to provide the information in the databases. That decision was reversed the next day by a panel of three judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Upon hearing the case, the entire Sixth Circuit overruled the panel and ordered Brunner to provide the information. Brunner appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and the case is called Ohio Republican Party, et. Al. v. Brunner.