XENIA, OH- The American Civil Liberties Union and other voting rights groups sent a letter to Greene County Sheriff Gene Fischer and Greene County Prosecuting Attorney Stephan Haller insisting they stop unsubstantiated investigations of voters who lawfully registered to vote and cast a ballot on the same day. Despite claims that he is investigating alleged voter fraud, Sheriff Fischer has been quoted in news reports that he does not have any first hand reports to support these allegations.
“The sheriff and prosecutor’s actions amount to nothing more than a massive fishing expedition. As an officer of the law, they should know better than to launch an investigation on hundreds of people without a shred of evidence. Publically announcing this investigation will only serve to intimidate county voters and make more people wary of participating in the political process now and in future elections,” said ACLU of Ohio Staff Counsel Carrie Davis.
On Thursday, October 9, 2008, Fischer requested registration cards and change of address forms from the Greene County Board of Elections for all 302 voters who took advantage of the five day window allowing for same-day registration and voting. Fischer stated that he wanted the information in order to track whether or not same-day voters were registered in other localities and were qualified electors in Greene County.
“Legitimate voters are being treated like criminals for exercising their right to vote. These voters have done nothing wrong, yet they are being unfairly targeted by law enforcement officials who have no evidence of wrong doing,” said Meredith Bell-Platts, staff counsel with the ACLU Voting Rights Project. “Three federal courts and the Ohio Supreme Court have determined that the five day window for same-day registration and voting is legal. These law enforcement officials ought to move on and stop intimidating innocent voters.”
The Ohio Supreme Court and U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio ruled on September 29, 2008 that same-day registration and voting during the five day window is legal under Ohio law. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio declined to stop the program subsequent to the Ohio Supreme Court’s ruling. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the five day window as well.
Joining the ACLU in its letter to Sheriff Fischer and Prosecuting Attorney Haller are the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, Project Vote and Demos: A Network for Ideas and Action and Ellis Jacobs.
"Conducting an investigation involving hundreds of people without any evidence of criminal activity is not only poor police work, it is illegal. Federal law protects voters from being intimidated, even unintentionally, by the actions of others. If voters believe that simply casting their ballot lawfully will subject them to investigation by police, it will almost certainly lead to some avoiding the ballot box," Davis concluded.