COLUMBUS, Ohio — The ACLU, ACLU of Ohio, Lawyers’ Committee, and the law firm of Covington & Burling LLP filed a motion for a preliminary injunction on behalf of plaintiffs League of Women Voters of Ohio, the A. Philip Randolph Institute of Ohio, and several impacted Ohio voters, seeking an order addressing Ohio’s flawed system of matching voter signatures on absentee ballots and absentee ballot applications before the November General Election. In light of the unprecedented numbers of Ohio voters likely to vote by mail this November, the motion asks the court to ensure voters have sufficient notice of purportedly mismatched signatures and the opportunity to fix those mismatches when boards of elections mistakenly reject their ballots and ballot applications on the basis of signature mismatches.
The plaintiffs ask that if election officials perceive a signature mismatch, they must:
- Provide adequate time for a voter to remedy the mismatch before the date by which the Ohio boards of elections must complete the canvass of returns.
- Contact voters by telephone and email in sufficient time to correct rejected absentee ballots and absentee ballot applications.
“The vast preponderance of signatures identified as ‘non-matching’ are in fact legitimate. According to experts, when a ballot is rejected for ‘signature mismatch,’ there is a 97% probability that it is actually legitimate! These are costly mistakes, because, all too often, Ohioans do not learn of or receive an opportunity to fix supposed ‘mismatches.’ In the midst of this global pandemic, record numbers of Ohioans will vote by mail in the November 2020 election, many for the first time. We are asking the court to require the Secretary of State to provide adequate notice and opportunity to cure supposed ‘mismatches’ so that large numbers of legitimate Ohio voters are not deprived of their constitutional right to vote,” said Freda Levenson, legal director of the ACLU of Ohio.
“With just over two months until Election Day, voters need a fair absentee ballot process that they can rely on to ensure their ballots are counted. Ohio's unscientific signature matching processes create unfair electoral barriers, especially for senior citizens, youth, and voters with disabilities. Ohio needs to institute a transparent notice and cure process so voters can be assured their votes will count,” added Jen Miller, executive director of the Ohio League of Women Voters.
“Signature matching in Ohio is notoriously inaccurate. All voter suppression tactics — no matter the shape or size — disproportionately affect historically disenfranchised voters of color and we cannot allow this to happen. The right to vote is sacred and should be treated as such,” added Andre Washington, president of the Ohio A. Philip Randolph Institute.
“Voters should not have their ballots illegally and arbitrarily tossed, but that is what is at grave risk here. This lawsuit seeks to put in place necessary safeguards to protect people’s vote," said Alora Thomas, senior staff attorney with the ACLU's Voting Rights Project.
"The COVID-19 pandemic continues to present great health risks for voters in Ohio who want to cast their ballot in person in Ohio. The Buckeye state has a chance to get this right and both protect and save lives - especially for voters who are older and who have pre-existing medical conditions, many of whom are concentrated in Black communities," said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
The motion for preliminary injunction in League of Women Voters of Ohio v Frank LaRose, was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.