CINCINNATI (CN) - The 6th Circuit handed Ohio Republicans a surprise victory on Tuesday by ordering Ohio's top elections officials to re-establish a system of verifying voter eligibility by Friday and making the results available to the state's 88 county election boards.
The Ohio Republican Party sued Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat, claiming she "turned off" or deactivated a section of the elections manual that outlined the process for verifying voter registration.
The disabled provision requires elections officials to ensure that the voter information in a statewide voter registration database matches information collected by the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
When voter records can't be confirmed, Brunner was supposed to notify the county boards of election. Republicans claimed that if Brunner identifies mismatches but doesn't share the information with county election boards, she defeats the purpose of verifying voter records and eliminates one of the Help America Vote Act's tools for ferreting out voter fraud.
Brunner argued that the election boards can still access this information by checking the voter registration database.
Republicans called Brunner's "solution" essentially useless - "not unlike asking for a drink of water and being given access to a fire hose at full volume," the ruling states.
A temporary restraining order issued by the district court on Oct. 10 required Brunner to provide mismatch lists to county election boards, among other things.
A three-judge panel vacated the order on the same day, but the full 6th Circuit reversed that ruling in a 10-6 decision after rehearing the case.
"(T)he Secretary has given no tenable explanation why her current interpretation of the statute, as opposed to the office's prior implementation of the law, remotely furthers the anti-fraud objective of the law," Judge Sutton wrote in the majority opinion. "A mismatch that (Brunner) does not track down and that she does not allow the county boards of election meaningfully to track down is not a usable mismatch."
The court denied Brunner's motion to stay the Oct. 10 temporary restraining order and gave state election officials until Friday to implement a voter verification plan.
Judges Moore, Martin, Daughtrey, Cole, Clay and White dissented.
About 666,000 Ohioans have registered to vote since January.