COLUMBUS, Ohio (CN) – Four unions claim in Federal Court that Ohio throws out far more legally cast provisional ballots than any other state – and that “a very large number” of the “hundreds of thousands” of provisional ballots tossed in the trash in recent elections ended up there “for reasons directly attributable to poll worker error.”
Lead plaintiff SEIU Local 1 sued Secretary of State John Husted and the Boards of Elections in the state’s three largest counties: Hamilton (Cincinnati), Cuyahoga (Cleveland) and Franklin (Columbus).
“In 2006, Ohio enacted one of the nation’s most complicated provisional ballot laws,” the complaint states. “Ohio requires at least thirteen categories of voters to cast provisional, rather than regular ballots. As a result, Ohio voters have cast hundreds of thousands more provisional ballots than voters in states with comparable voting populations. In 2008 alone, Ohio voters cast more than 200,000 provisional ballots out of 5.7 million votes. As a result, with a far smaller population, Ohio ranks second only to California in total number of provisional ballots cast. States with comparable voting populations required voters to cast far fewer provisional ballots in the 2008 election: Michigan (approximately 5 million votes, only 3,797 provisional ballots cast); Virginia (approximately 3,750,000 votes, only 4,575 provisional ballots cast); Wisconsin (3 million votes; only 211 provisional ballots cast).
“In addition to requiring substantial categories of provisional voters to cast provisional ballots, Ohio law also requires the County Board of Elections to reject provisional ballots for many reasons. In the 2008 election, over 40,000 of Ohio’s provisional ballots were rejected and the numbers in other recent elections have also been substantial. And, a very large number of ballots cast by lawfully registered voters in Ohio have been rejected in every recent election for reasons directly attributable to poll worker error.”
The four unions and the Ohio Organizing Collaborative claim that “the most egregious example of widespread disqualification of ballots of registered voters because of poll worker error results from results from the provisional ballot statute … which requires the County Boards of Election to reject and not count all votes cast on a provisional ballot if the ballot does not correspond to the voter’s assigned precinct. The Ohio Supreme Court in 2011 in State ex rel. Painter v. Brunner, 128 Ohio St.3d 17 (2011), adopted the most strict possible interpretation of this statute, requiring rejection of all wrong-precinct provisional ballots without exception, even where the County Board of Election knows that poll worker error led to the voter being provided with the wrong ballot.” (Emphasis in original)
The unions claim that votes are rejected in every election – including presidential elections – and that “the unfair application of this law has become all the more egregious in light of Ohio’s increasing consolidation of voting precincts into multi-precinct polling locations, where poll workers give a wrong precinct ballot to a voter who has come to vote in the correct polling location, only to have that ballot disqualified in its entirety, with no notice to the voter, after the election.”
They claim that evidence collected from recent elections clearly demonstrates that poll worker error is the most common reason for the disqualification of provisional ballots.
“When voters cast provisional ballots at a Board’s office, it is practically impossible for the voter, through some fault of the voter’s, to cast a ballot in the incorrect precinct because a poll worker will provide the voter with the ballot to be cast,” the complaint states.
It adds: “Poll workers throughout Ohio misunderstand Ohio law and therefore give provisional ballots to anyone not on the precinct register without attempting to discern the correct precinct, in a misguided effort to help people vote.
“Poll workers throughout Ohio mistakenly think the voter is in the correct precinct, even when they are not able to locate the voter in the poll book.
“Poll workers throughout Ohio direct voters to the wrong precincts; or, within a multi-precinct location where poll workers have access to ballots for several precincts, give voters the wrong precinct ballots.
“Poll workers throughout Ohio fail to give correct precinct information because they make errors in reading the counties’ complicated street guides, particularly where streets are split between precincts by odd and even addresses and where there may be more than one residence with the same street number and street name within a county.”
The plaintiffs seek declaratory judge that Ohio’s provisional ballot law violates the Seventh and 14th Amendment, and they want it enjoined.
They are represented by Michael Hunter, with Hunter, Carnahan, Shoub, Byard and Harshman.