New Directive to Increase Protection for Ohio Voters From Partisan Voter Caging
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September 08, 2008
In response to strong concerns expressed by Project Vote about the potential for partisan abuse of Ohio’s vague voter challenger laws, Ohio’s Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner took an important step to clarify the law and protect Ohio voters from partisan voter caging. In a directive issued on Friday to all Ohio Elections Boards, the secretary makes it clear that Ohio voters must be afforded notice and due process before their right to vote is challenged, and that returned mail alone can not be used as a partisan tool to suppress the vote in this presidential election year.
The directive helps restore basic rights that the Ohio legislature took away in a controversial series of voter challenge laws, passed in 2006, which required county boards of election to send non-forwardable mailings to each registered voter 60 days before the election. Names on the lists of returned or undeliverable notice letters could be accessed by partisan operatives through public records laws to create ready-made “voter caging” lists. Project Vote had expressed concerns that up to 600,000 eligible voters—including a disproportionate number of minorities and youths—could be unlawfully stricken from the voter rolls based solely on problems with the mail.
Recent history shows that such concerns are justified. In 2004,
partisans filed 35,000 challenges to Ohio voters in a mass voter caging
that disproportionally impacted people of color. The challenges were
based solely on a single piece of returned, non-forwardable mail. The
resulting chaos disenfranchised voters, overwhelmed boards of election,
and led to multiple lawsuits.
“Partisan, challengers who have obtained a list of returned letters
shouldn't be allowed to intimidate low-income and minority Ohioans, or
strip eligible voters of their rights,” says Teresa James, attorney
with Project Vote. “Particularly in light of the troubling history of
voter caging in Ohio, Secretary Brunner is to be commended for her
strong leadership on this issue and her firm commitment to protecting
the rights of Ohio voters.
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