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Ohio Voting Rights|Suit Back in Court

(CN) - The 6th Circuit agrees that some Ohio voters were denied constitutional rights during the 2004 election. The League of Women Voters alleges decades-old problems with voter registration, absentee and provisional ballot processes, and allocation of voting machines in four counties.

Voters cited numerous examples of inconsistencies:

After waiting up to 12 hours in line, thousands of Ohioans were unable to vote when the county ran out of ballots, or broke the law by closing and sending them home; at least one-fifth of provisional ballots were thrown out, partly because voters were not notified of their correct precinct; and legitimate voters were improperly purged from the rolls.

Ohio voter Jeanne White intervened, claiming that a touch-screen machine had caused her vote to "jump" to a different choice than her selection.

The amended lawsuit sought injunctive relief to revamp the Ohio voting system, outlining chronic troubles dating back to 1971.

The governor and secretary of state sought dismissal on numerous grounds, including that the claims should be redirected to the election board, and that the passage of House Bill 3 solved the voting issues.

An Ohio federal court found constitutional violations, but dismissed claims under the Help America Vote Act, since the state was not required to comply with that law until 2006.

The 6th Circuit upheld the district court on two constitutional counts, chiding the state for allowing the "system-wide chaos" that occurred in 2004.

Circuit Judge Julia Smith Gibbons wrote that the state violated the equal protection clause by providing inconsistent voting rights from county to county, while the egregiousness of claims painted a "troubling picture of a system so devoid of standards and procedures as to violate substantive due process."

The 6th Circuit overturned part of the district court decision by dismissing the procedural due process count, saying the plaintiffs inadequately subsumed it into the substantial due process argument.

Claims for equal protection and substantive due process under the Fourteenth Amendment will return to Ohio federal court.

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