Ohio Voters Take Aim at GOP-Led Restrictions

     COLUMBUS, Ohio (CN) – Ohio’s Republican-controlled government passed unfair laws to keep minorities and young people away from the polls, voters claim in court.
     The Ohio Organizing Collaborative and three individuals filed the federal complaint on May 8 against Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.
     They say that since the November 2012 elections, the state’s general assembly and Gov. John Kasich “have enacted several changes to the state’s voting laws that … were designed to and will disproportionately burden specific populations, in particular African-Americans, Latinos, and young people – each of which are, not coincidentally, core Democratic constituencies.”
     Among these laws is Senate Bill 238, which eliminates a seven-day period known as “the Golden Week,” during which voters could register and vote on the same day.
     S.B. 238 also reduces the early voting period in Ohio from 35 to 28 days.
     Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted also issued various directives affecting early in-person, or EIP, voting hours for the 2014 primary and general elections.
     Directive 2014-17 removed the Sunday and evening hours of early voting, for example – a move that some groups said took direct aim at the “Souls to the Polls” program adopted by the black church community.
     These churches used their transportation, already in place on Sundays to take people to and from church, to take also visit early polling places.
     Though both a federal judge and the Cincinnati-based 6th Circuit had tried to enjoin S.B. 238 and Directive 2014-17, the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately reinstated the limits on early voting ahead of the last election.
     Friday’s lawsuit says the new EIP regulations force each county to use identical methods for early voting, including utilizing just one polling place.
     Calling this requirement untenable, the plaintiffs note that “voters in Franklin County, which is home to Columbus and The Ohio State University and has approximately 800,000 registered voters, are limited to one EIP voting location, as are voters in Noble County, which has approximately 9,000 registered voters – an approximate ratio of 89 to 1.”
     Another target of the lawsuit is S.B. 200, a law that the plaintiffs say will increase polling-place lines by reducing the number of voting machines required in each county.
     Several other bills passed by the Senate make it more difficult to obtain and cast an absentee ballot, according to the complaint.
     S.B. 205 prohibits “any public office, including county BOEs … from mailing unsolicited absentee ballot applications … and requir[es] voters to provide more information to have their absentee ballots counted,” the complaint states.
     Millions of voters also did not receive their absentee ballots ahead of the 2014 elections because “Secretary Husted excluded … voters who did not respond to a confirmation notice sent as part of the state’s voter records maintenance program,” the plaintiffs claim.
     With many voters “unable to wait in prohibitively long lines caused by these restrictive measures to cast their ballots or because they failed to satisfy the new stringent requirements that Ohio has imposed for counting provisional and absentee ballots,” the complaint predicts that the laws will completely disenfranchise thousands.
     Claiming that the state has deliberately targeted “certain members of the electorate,” the plaintiffs say that the defendants “threaten the very bedrock of our democracy, which relies on full and fair access to the ballot box by all eligible voters, whatever their demographic makeup or political beliefs.”
     The plaintiffs seek injunctions preventing further enforcement of any of the laws mentioned in the suit, which they claim violate the First, 14th and 15th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, as well as the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts.
     Jordan Isern, Carol Biehle and Bruce Butcher are the individual plaintiffs listed alongside the Ohio Organizing Collaborative.
     They are represented by Donald McTigue of McTigue, McGinnis and Colombo.

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