CLEVELAND- The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Ohio filed a lawsuit against state election officials in federal court today challenging the use of unequal, inaccurate and inadequate voting technology in Ohio’s most populous county. Today’s legal action seeks to block Cuyahoga County’s recent shift from using electronic voting machines to a system that lacks the ability to provide voters with notice of balloting errors and an opportunity to correct such mistakes. According to the ACLU, the use of these machines violates the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment as well as the Voting Rights Act.
“Every voting system – paper ballot or not – must give voters a chance to fix a mistake. Many votes will go uncounted if voters cannot verify that their ballots have been filled out correctly,” said Meredith Bell-Platts, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “Mandating an unequal voting system is intolerable and will inevitably lead to preventable disfranchisement. With Ohio’s presidential primary only weeks away, Cuyahoga County must abandon its deeply flawed and unreliable voting technology in order to protect the rights of every voter.”
Last month, Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner cast a tie-breaking vote that forced Cuyahoga County to adopt a central count optical scan system (CCOS) voting system, in which paper ballots are immediately shipped to a central location where they are “read” by an optical scan machine. Under this arrangement, voters are given no opportunity to correct a mistake on their ballots. However, optical scan voting systems are available with counting features that provide error notification to voters at polling places. When using these systems – that are already used by several counties statewide – the voter inserts his or her ballot directly into the counting equipment, which can be programmed to reject any ballot with an overvote or that cannot be read. A voter with a rejected ballot then has an opportunity to correct the vote. This error notification substantially reduces the risk that an individual’s vote will not be counted. Brunner and Cuyahoga County rejected this method.
“A system that protects every vote equally is not a luxury, it is a constitutional right,” said Carrie Davis, staff counsel with the ACLU of Ohio. “It is unacceptable for some Ohio voters to have the opportunity to identify and fix errors on their ballots, while other voters do not. The technology is available to correct this flaw and there is no reason to ignore this problem. In addition to its constitutional violations, the new system presents an untold logistical and financial disaster on the eve of the 2008 elections.”
Ohio adopted voting technology that provided notice to voters in 2006. In the 2004 case, Stewart v. Blackwell, the ACLU challenged punch card and central count optical scans that did not provide the voters with notification of ballot problems. Research has shown that if the voter is given an opportunity to correct his or her ballot, the number of uncounted votes greatly dissipates.
The case is ACLU v. Brunner and is in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.
Attorneys in the case are Bell-Platts, Laughlin McDonald and Neil Bradley of the ACLU, Davis of the ACLU of Ohio, and cooperating attorneys Paul Moke and Richard Saphire. The lawsuit was brought against Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, the Cuyahoga County Board of Commissioners, and the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections on behalf of the ACLU of Ohio and voters across the county.
Today’s legal complaint is available at: www.acluohio.org
More information on the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project is available at: http://www.aclu.org/voting-rights.