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Professor Dan Tokaji
Election reform, the Voting Rights Act, the Help America Vote Act, and related topics -- with special attention to the voting rights of people of color, non-English proficient citizens, and people with disabilities

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Equal Vote
Thursday, July 28
 
League of Women Voters' Ohio Lawsuit
The League of Women Voters of Ohio and several individual voters have sued Ohio's Secretary of State Ken Blackwell and Governor Bob Taft, for what they term "a pattern of maladministration, wanton disregard of their duties under Ohio and federal law, and the creation and maintenance of a non-functioning voting system." The complaint can be found here. Attorneys for Plaintiffs include the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the National Voting Rights Institute, People for the American Way, and private law firms.

The 66-page complaint's allegations include:

- non-uniform standards, procedures and rules,

- a "deeply flawed and wholly inadequate" registration system,

- defects in the issuance and processing of absentee ballots,

- machine allocation problems and resulting long lines,

- maladministration of provisional voting,

- a statewide registration database system that fails to comply with the Help America Vote Act,

- inadequately trained poll workers, and

- the failure to provide access to voters with disabilities.

The complaint alleges that the problems identified are "longstanding." Plaintiffs' claims are brought under the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the fundamental right to vote under the Due Process Clause, and HAVA. The case, League of Women Voters of Ohio v. Blackwell, has been assigned to Judge James Carr in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.

Plaintiffs complaint also indicates that they intend to move for preliminary injunctive relief.

My take: This is a "kitchen sink" complaint, which includes many of the very serious problems that have emerged in Ohio's past elections. While it's difficult to evaluate the likelihood of any or all of these claims ultimately succeeding, especially at such an early stage, one issue that bears especially careful scrutiny is Ohio's compliance with HAVA's requirement that a statewide registration database be in place by 2006.

Very little information has been made publicly available about exactly what's going on with Ohio's HAVA-required database. The complaint alleges on information and belief that the procedures that will be followed won't actually be uniform, instead giving "broad discretion" to counties. It further alleges that this will result in voters being removed without adequate notice and in disparities from county to county -- something that might violate equal protection as well as HAVA.

The Plaintiffs' statement that they intend to seek a preliminary injunction indicates that this case may be on a fast track. One of the very useful things that could emerge from discovery, if it takes place promptly, is to find out exactly what Ohio's doing with its statewide registration database.

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