Voting rights advocates are asking a federal court to step in and stop what they call an eleventh hour move by the Ohio secretary of state that could disenfranchise thousands of Ohio voters. Lawyers representing plaintiffs in a case regarding how provisional ballots will be treated in Tuesday’s election filed an emergency motion challenging a directive to elections supervisors, issued by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted late Friday, after the court had closed.
Husted’s order requires poll workers to not count provisional ballots where voters make any errors in filling out their provisional ballot and affirmation, including the part of the form detailing what forms of identification they are presenting in order to vote. The problem: Ohio law states that filling out the ID portion of the form is the responsibility of poll workers, not voters. Ohio Revised Code Section 3505.181 (B)(6) states that “the appropriate local election official shall record the type of identification provided” by the voter.
“The voter is just supposed to write their name on the ballot form and affirmation and sign it,” Subodh Chandra, an attorney representing the plaintiffs in a case over how provisional ballots will be treated if voters are directed by poll workers to the wrong precinct told theGrio. “The election worker is not only supposed to write down the form of ID, they’re supposed to certify that they have told the voter what to do to verify that their vote counted. They’re supposed to provide guidance and they’re supposed to verify it.”
Husted changed the voter affirmation form, moving the portion where the ID information is entered above the signature line, despite the fact that by Ohio statute, it is supposed to be below the voter’s signature, in the section of the form to be filled out by a poll worker.
“I thought, this doesn’t make any sense, why he’s trying to disqualify ballots based on mistakes on ballot affirmation” Chandra said.
Voting rights activists fully expected Husted to issue a directive regarding how provisional ballots would be treated in the wake of the ruling, so Chandra sent a letter to Husted’s counsel, asking that Husted be sure to clarify in his order that an errors on the form made by poll workers not be counted against the voter. Chandra said Husted never responded to the request, or to a follow up telephone call.
“We were getting increasingly suspicious about what the directive would say, so we filed the emergency motion” requesting clarification from the federal court. “And then they issued the directive after business hours, without giving us any notice.” Chandra said.
In arguments before the Circuit Court, Husted deflected any concerns about potential voter disenfranchisement by reasserting that it is indeed the poll worker’s responsibility to ensure that the form of ID presented was recorded, adding that voters should not be disenfranchised due to a poll worker’s “failure to write something down.” Having made that argument, Husted nonetheless is now ordering elections supervisors to throw out provisional ballots where the ID is improperly recorded.
On Saturday, NEOCH, Progress Ohio and State Senator Nina Turner held an emergency press conference, in which they accused Husted of orchestrating a stealth form of voter suppression.
“Husted’s edict deliberately seeks to disenfranchise eligible voters whose votes should be counted,” a press release from Progress Ohio read. “In a close election, it could come down to provisional ballots and this 11th hour directive could be a game changer and is nothing short of voter suppression. Husted’s actions are now the subject of emergency motions which have been filed in federal court in Columbus by the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless.”