September 29, 2008

CLEVELAND – In an overwhelming victory for voting rights, two different Ohio courts today ruled that counties cannot deny absentee ballots to newly registered voters in violation of directives issued by Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner. Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit and two friend-of-the-court briefs challenging efforts to prevent new voters from casting absentee ballots.

“This is a resounding victory for Ohio voters and the constitution,” said Meredith Bell-Platts, staff counsel with the ACLU Voting Rights Project. “Two different courts came to the same conclusion – that every eligible voter who registered close to the 30 day deadline will be certain of their right to vote absentee. As a result of today’s decisions, we are confident that disenfranchisement will be minimized. These decisions enhance civic participation by removing unnecessary and discriminatory barriers to people’s access to the ballot.”

The situation began as a result of Secretary Brunner's August 13, 2008 directive requesting that local Boards of Elections prepare for people who wish to register and vote during a five day overlap in voter registration deadlines and the beginning of absentee balloting. According to state law, a voter must be registered to vote 30 days before the date of the election, and absentee balloting begins 35 days before the election. The Board of Elections in Madison County stated it will only provide absentee ballots to voters who have been registered more than 30 days before the date they requested an absentee ballot, rather than 30 days before Election Day.

“Today, judges in the Ohio Supreme Court and federal court overwhelmingly agreed that all voters should have equal access to the ballot box, regardless of when they registered to vote,” said Carrie Davis, ACLU of Ohio staff attorney. “These decisions send a strong message that all Ohioans’ voting rights must be protected equally and that attempts to throw obstacles in the path of voters are not acceptable.”

The ACLU lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio on behalf of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH), 1Matters, Project Vote and two individual voters. The other case was decided by the Ohio Supreme Court.