Inmates Jailed on Minor Offenses to Vote in Ohio

     CINCINNATI (CN) – Inmates jailed for misdemeanors in Ohio the weekend prior to Election Day still have the right to vote, a federal judge ruled.
     Fair Elections Ohio won an injunction against Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted requiring the state to grant absentee voting rights to those inmates up until 3 pm on Election Day.
     Under Ohio law, only criminals convicted of felonies forfeit their right to vote.
     Prior to U.S. District Court Judge S. Arthur Spiegel’s ruling, prisoners incarcerated for misdemeanor offenses could only vote via absentee ballots collected at 6:00 pm on the Friday before Election Day.
     Fair Elections Ohio argued that at least 400 hundred Ohioans were denied the write to vote as a result of being incarcerated over the weekend prior to Election Day.
     In his ruling, Judge Spiegel emphasized that the number of voters affected is not important, but “rather ‘the severity of the burden on a cognizable subset of voters’ that is the proper focus of the Court’s analysis.”
     He continued: “Defendants have not demonstrated that plaintiffs’ methodology in arriving at 400-plus affected voters through extrapolation is incorrect. … [T]he court is of the mind that even if one voter in an election cycle … is deprived of his voting right, there is an actionable Equal Protection violation.”
     Husted contended the plaintiffs’ request would place an undue burden on the Board of Elections, but Judge Spiegel quickly shot down the argument.
     He wrote: “There should be no real concern on the part of defendants that plaintiffs’ requested relief opens the floodgates to some chaotic last-minute stampede by jailed voters. Indeed, despite defendants’ general argument that the boards of election have too much to do already, the record shows they are already sending their two-person teams to jails on Election Day anyway, to enable confined eligible voters who submitted requests prior to the generally-applicable deadline.
     “In the court’s view, it is clear that assisting the few extra qualified voters who were confined after the Friday 6:00 P.M. deadline could not be an onerous extra burden,” the judge wrote, concluding, “The boards of elections teams should have no trouble locating late-jailed electors, as they literally have a captive audience.”
     Fair Elections Ohio and the other plaintiffs also made claims alleging the state violated the Voting Rights Act by disenfranchising African-American voters, who made up roughly half of the late-jailed electors in the 2012 elections.
     Husted not only questioned the validity of the statistics, but also cited the 1986 Sixth Circuit case Wesley v. Collins and argued that “a showing of disproportionate racial impact alone does not establish a per se violation of the Act.” (emphasis in original)
     Judge Spiegel countered the defendants’ argument by clarifying that the excluded voters in Wesley were all convicted felons.
     He concluded that “the legislative scheme that distinguishes late-jailed voters from late-hospitalized voters arose in the early 1970’s. There is no genuine dispute that African-Americans are disproportionately affected by this policy which arose in the wake of the Civil Rights movement. Under these circumstances, the court finds the ‘historical, social and political factors generally probative of dilution,’ that is, that the African-American voters have been barred from voting in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.”

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