Election Law @ Moritz

Election Law Litigation

League of Women Voters v. Blackwell

Print Page

Detailed Summary

In this case, the Plaintiffs, including two divisions of the League of Women Voters and sixteen individual voters, claim that the Defendants, including Ohio Secretary of State Blackwell and Governor Taft, have violated their rights pursuant to the United States Constitution and federal law. The Plaintiffs claim that the Defendants continue to "promulgate and maintain a voting system in Ohio . . . by using non-uniform standards, processes, and rules, and that employs untrained or improperly trained personnel, and that has wholly inadequate systems, procedures, and funding necessary to ensure the meaningful and equal exercise of the right to vote." [1]

Plaintiffs cite several graphic examples of problems which occurred during the 2004 Election and which are indicative of the larger problems they believe plague the election system in Ohio. These problems include: improper use of provisional ballots [2]; insufficient accommodations for disabled voters [3], including failure to provide curbside voting where necessary; improper administration of absentee ballots [4]; improper counting of provisional ballots [5]; inequitable distribution of funds, equipment and personnel [6]; failure to provide adequate voting facilities [7]; and failures to properly train poll workers [8].

The Plaintiffs claim that these problems indicate a violation of their constitutional rights of Equal Protection, Substantive Due Process, and Procedural Due Process [9]. They also claim that the Defendants have violated the Help America Vote Act by the way in which they implemented the state's computerized voter registration system [10].

The Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief. Specifically, they request that the court declare Ohio's electoral system unconstitutional, and enjoin the Defendants to promulgate and adapt uniform standards and processes for running elections to ensure that similar problems are prevented in future elections. [11]

The Defendants main legal arguments are that they should be immune from this suit due to the sovereign immunity granted by the Eleventh Amendment [12], that the violations alleged are not within the jurisdiction of the Defendants, but rather of local boards of elections [13], and that a few select examples of problems do not indicate a continual constitutional violation [14].

The Defendants filed a motion to dismiss all counts of the complaint. This motion was denied in part and granted in part.

The judge found that the Plaintiffs had properly alleged violations of the equal protection clause as well as of both substantive and procedural due process. [15] However, because Ohio had filed for an extension on the registration list requirements under the Help America Vote Act, the judge found that the law did not yet apply to Ohio, and so dismissed the counts of the complaint in that regard. [16]

More recently, the Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit as moot following passage of Amended Substitute House Bill 3.

According to the Defendants, this bill addresses all of the concerns raised by the Plaintiffs in their lawsuit, specifically referring to: the institution of a uniform registration system; ensuring that absentee ballots are properly counted; ensuring that voters receive adequate information regarding the location of polling places; that poll places have adequately trained staff and voting machines; that provisional ballots are properly counted; and that disabled voters be adequately accommodated. [17]

The Plaintiffs have not yet filed a reply to this motion, and as such the future of the lawsuit is currently in question, pending the outcome of this motion.

Analysis as to this motion:

H.B. 3 does go a long way towards addressing many of the concerns raised by the Plaintiff in this suit, but it does not address all of them. The best example of this gap concerns training and recruiting of poll workers. Many of the problems alleged by the Plaintiffs in this case stemmed in whole or in part from an error by a poll worker. H.B. 3 fails to address this difficulty, and thus leaves room for litigation. In whole, while H.B. 3 does make considerable inroads to solving some of the problems afflicting the Ohio electoral system, it still leaves much to the discretion of the Secretary of State, and it is that discretion that the lawsuit seeks to shape.

Current Procedural Status-- Parties are now engaged in discovery. Plaintiffs are to be completed with discovery by June 30, 2006, and Defendants by August 7, 2006. [18]

A hearing on a preliminary injunction is scheduled to begin on July 11 and run through the 21 st , and the Defendant's case is scheduled to commence on August 20 and run till September 1. [19]

Notes

[1] See Amended Complaint For Declaratory and Injunctive Relief Nov. 30, 2005 pg. 1

[2] Id. at pp. 39-42

[3] Id. at pp. 42-43

[4] Id. at pp.25-27

[5] Id. at pp. 39-42

[6] Id. at pp. 45, 47

[7] Id. at pp. 27-28

[8] Id. at pp. 21, 37-38

[9] Id. at pp. 55-57

[10] Id. at pg. 57

[11] Id. at pp. 57-60

[12] See Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Aug. 29, 2005 pp. 3-5

[13] Id. at pg. 3-5

[14] See Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint Dec. 7, 2005 pp. 6-7

[15] Judicial Order (Document 202) December 2, 2005

[16] Id. at pp. 11-12

[17] Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint as Moot (Document 277-1) at 3.

[18] Judicial Order (Document 300) May 12, 2006 pg. 1

[19] Id. at pp. 1-2