Six Months Later, Ohio Poll Order Tossed

     CINCINNATI (CN) — A primary election in the Cincinnati area should not have been extended by an hour because of an anonymous call about a fatal car accident and traffic jam, the Sixth Circuit ruled.
     A 12-vehicle accident caused a car to plunge off the Combs-Hehl Bridge into the Ohio River at 4:30 p.m. on March 15 of this year, the date of Ohio’s primary election.
     Traffic was tied up for six hours on the eastbound lanes, which lead from Kentucky into Ohio.
     A county clerk received an anonymous phone call about the accident, which killed David James Bouma. The clerk called Judge Susan Dlott, who was attending a law school dinner in Cincinnati, according to local news reports.
     According to Dlott, the clerk told her “stranded motorists couldn’t get to the polls to vote” and wanted to know “if there was anything the court could do to help.”
     The judge orally issued an order keeping the polls in Hamilton, Butler, Clermont and Warren counties open an extra hour until 8:30 p.m.
     The judge’s order was docketed on March 30. The Ohio Secretary of State appealed, along with the Hamilton and Butler county election boards.
     They argued that the order should not have been issued as a result of an anonymous phone call. The Sixth Circuit agreed Tuesday, due to the lack of a plaintiff, or in this case, four plaintiffs.
     “The district court at a minimum needed four plaintiffs, one registered to vote in each of the four covered counties but who had not yet voted,” Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton wrote for a three-judge panel. “Otherwise, there was no concrete and redressable injury, no case or controversy, and no authority to order the relevant election board to do anything.”
     Sutton noted the difficulty in even coming up with a name for the case — which the district court captioned In Re: 2016 Primary Election — because of the lack of a named plaintiff.
     “It’s tilting at windmills to try to define the complaining party. Was it a registered voter from the Buckeye State? A party operative? A poll worker? Or just a concerned citizen?” he asked.
     Sutton noted the difficult position the federal judge was in, but “none of this explains why the clerk’s office or the court couldn’t answer the phone call with the most natural of questions: ‘Who is it?'”
     The Sixth Circuit vacated Dlott’s order and remanded it for dismissal for lack of jurisdiction.
     Chief Judge R. Guy Cole wrote a partially dissenting opinion, stating that he would have considered the case to be moot.
     “My disagreement with the majority is one of perspective: if mootness is ‘the doctrine of standing set in a time frame,’ then I elect to resolve this appeal in the present, not the past,” Cole wrote.

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