Ohio's Election Stolen Again? State May Face 600K Voter Purge in Coming Weeks
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Editor's note: In 2004, election integrity activists challenged the results of Ohio's presidential election before the Ohio Supreme Court, and convinced Rep. Stephanie Tubbs-Jones (D-OH) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) to challenge the state's Electoral College vote before a joint session of Congress. The reaction by Ohio's then Republican-controlled Legislature was to enact a series of election reforms that punished likely Democratic voters. Some of the laws adopted were later thrown out in court, such as penalizing voter registration drives. But others, including a technical process to require certain voters to prove their registrations are valid on Election Day -- or lose their right to vote, remain in effect. Two of the nation's top voting rights groups, Advancement Project and Project Vote, this week reported 600,000 Ohio voters could be effected. This article is a combination of the releases both groups issued this week. George W. Bush beat John Kerry by nearly 119,000 votes in Ohio in 2004. -- Steven Rosenfeld, AlterNet Democracy and Elections editor .
Columbus, Ohio August 13, 2008 -- Nearly 600,000 eligible Ohio voters may be dropped from the voter rolls if Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner doesn't act to protect these voters, according to findings based on publicly available information discovered by Advancement Project and Project Vote.
These voters -- disproportionately voters of color and young voters -- are subject to being removed from Ohio's voter registration rolls without notice or a hearing because of the state's vague regulations on vote caging, a process that enables representatives of one political party to challenge the voter registration credentials of voters at polling places on Election Day.
The Ohio counties with largest numbers of returned notices prior to March 2008 Presidential Primary are Cuyahoga, Franklin, Hamilton, Lucas and Summit, where Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Toledo are located.
The mechanism of caging or challenging voters dates back to legislation passed soon after the 2004 presidential election.
In 2005, Ohio's General Assembly introduced legislation, House Bill 3 (H.B.3) that overhauled Ohio's election system. H.B. 3, in part, requires voter information mailings and amends Ohio's challenge statute(s). In particular, it requires that 88 county boards of election mail all Ohio registered voters a non-forwardable notice 60 days before the election. Each board must compile into a list any notices that are returned as undeliverable. These lists, in turn, are available as public records to any individual or group seeking to use the list as a "caging list" to challenge voters.
The amended challenge law no longer requires the county boards to provide Ohio voters with notice that they are being removed from the voting rolls or a hearing for them to defend themselves of a challenge. Rather, the Ohio law permits the boards to review their own records and make a determination to the validity of the challenge.
This law was effective beginning 2006 and covers all primary, general, and special elections from 2006 through the November 2008 General Election. Advancement Project finds it extremely interesting, that this law "sunsets" effective January 1, 2009.
"A single returned piece of mail is not a reliable basis for challenging the right to vote," said Donita Judge, Ohio staff attorney, Advancement Project. "Mail may be returned for many reasons, including errors in the database from which the mailing is derived, errors in the mailing labels, failure to include an apartment number or poor matching criteria."
Advancement Project and Project Vote would like to see the Ohio Secretary of State, Jennifer Brunner, issue a directive prohibiting Ohio electors from challenging Ohio voters whose name appear on any returned mailings and/or any past, current or future caging list. This is the best remedy to ensure that all Ohio voters are treated in a uniform manner during the November 2008 election because it permits the county boards to send out information to Ohio voters and at the same time ensures that all voters are permitted to vote without the threat of being placed on a list that is subject to challenge for no other reason than a returned mailing.
"Partisan, challengers who have obtained a list of returned letters shouldn't be allowed to strip Ohio voters of their right to update their addresses" said Teresa James, attorney with Project Vote. The lack of notice to challenged voters under Ohio's 2006 challenge law allows this interference to take place quietly and behind closed doors. This violates the principles our nation was founded on. It is imperative that Secretary Brunner establish guidelines so that partisan challengers will not be permitted to lodge unfounded challenges that clog the election process, burden poll workers and disenfranchise eligible voters."
Ohio's current law is internally inconsistent. For instance, Ohio law permits voters who move from one precinct to another to change their address from 28-days prior to the election, up to and including Election Day. Yet, if a voter is challenged and removed from the rolls within 20 days of the Election and their registration is canceled, without notice, this cancels the effectiveness of a voter changing their address since there is no longer a registration on file. It also violates Ohio law and equal protection of the laws because this voter is not provided the same meaningful opportunity to update a valid registration up to and including Election Day as other Ohio voters.
The new election law also unfairly impacts black and Latino Americans and other voters of color. Advancement Project anticipates that significant number of voters of color will be included on the county generated caging lists because census data indicates that they move more frequently than whites. Furthermore, in light of the fact that college students change residences frequently, it is anticipated that large numbers of young voters will be included on the lists as well.
"Voter suppression and intimidation is driven by a desire to maintain the status quo, concluded Judge." "These acts are carried out in an effort to deprive certain Americans, especially those most marginalized, of a voice in our democracy. Election Day is the great equalizer -- it is the one day where if all was right in our democracy, it would not matter if a person is rich, poor, black, white, educated or not, we all would have the same amount of power."
Advancement Project partners with community organizations, bringing them the tools of legal advocacy and strategic communications to dismantle structural exclusion.