For Immediate Release:
August 3, 2016
Ohio Voting Laws Designed to Intentionally Discriminate Against Minorities;
Civil Rights Lawyer Heads to Federal Court to Ask for Them to be Invalidated
COLUMBUS – The state legislature passed laws that intentionally limit voter participation by African-Americans and other groups that tend to favor Democrats, and a federal appeals court should find these limits unconstitutional, civil rights lawyer, Subodh Chandra, told a Columbus news conference.
Chandra made his comments one day before he is scheduled to ask the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit to invalidate two Ohio voting laws passed in 2014. The Ohio case takes center stage one week after a federal appeals court tossed out a North Carolina voting law, saying it “targeted African-Americans with almost surgical precision” in violation of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and the 14th Amendment.
Chandra contends that the disputed Ohio laws also violate the VRA and 14th amendment’s due-process and equal-protection clauses.
“Ohio’s preoccupation with limiting voting opportunities leads to real incidents of disenfranchisement, particularity among African-American and other groups that favor Democrats,” he said. “The pattern is unmistakable, and the result is unconstitutional.”
Coalitions representing the homeless and the Ohio Democratic Party initiated the lawsuit, which centers on technical requirements for Ohio absentee and provisional ballots. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, both Republicans, are the defendants.
The requirements were included in two bills approved by Republican legislators and signed into law by Gov. John Kasich, also a Republican.
One bill requires absentee voters to accurately fill out five fields on the forms accompanying ballots – more than was previously required; the second bill requires county boards of elections to reject absentee and provisional ballots for even trivial errors made on those forms.
“Husted’s top deputy testified that voters who write their names in perfectly legible cursive on ballot forms that say ‘print name’ should have their votes discarded—even when a voter’s identity or eligibility is not in question,’’ Chandra said. “That makes no sense.”
Joining Chandra was Gunther Lahm, a Dublin resident, who expressed outrage that he and wife’s absentee ballots were both discarded simply because they accidentally returned them in each other’s envelopes.
“It was a simple mistake,’’ he said. “our country has a responsibility to make it easier for people to vote and for votes to be counted, but I know there are factions that seem to want to interfere in the right of some people to vote.’’
Lahm was unaware that their votes were not counted until he received a call from Chandra’s office, and said his experience should raise concerns about the impact the laws are having on senior citizens and voters who lack the wherewithal to challenge the system.
Plaintiffs in the case identified more than 4,100 ballots they said were disqualified for technical errors.
Data showed that the rate of disqualification varied widely from county to county. Small counties with few minority voters such as Adams, Fayette, Harrison, Meigs, Noble, and Wyandot routinely counted ballots with errors; larger counties with many minority voters like Butler, Cuyahoga, Franklin, Hamilton, Lucas, and Summit routinely rejected such ballots.
For a more detailed analysis of the disparate enforcement, please see this brief.
For graphics showing how counties with large minority populations enforce Ohio’s laws differently than counties with mostly white voters, click here.
For transcripts of Chandra’s cross-examination of Matt Damschroder, top deputy of Ohio Sec. of State Jon Husted, which highlight clear instances of intentional discrimination by the State of Ohio, click here and here.
For a 1-page glance at this deposition, click here.
“Where voters live should not determine whether their votes are counted,’’ Chandra said.
He said the discriminatory intent lies not just in the Ohio General Assembly’s passage of the new laws but also in Husted’s implementation of them.
Husted has defended a string of new voting rules, insisting they are needed to bring uniformity to a sometimes patchwork system. Yet when repeatedly presented with information showing that counties with large African-American populations were strictly enforcing the new laws but small, mostly white counties were not, Husted did not act.
As further evidence of intentional discrimination, Chandra pointed to, among other things:
- Trial testimony from Assistant Secretary of State Matt Damschroder. Damschroder admitted that as lawmakers and Husted were cutting back early voting hours, defendants were aware that “in larger counties with larger African-American populations, there was a larger percentage of in-person absentee ballots … cast by African-Americans,” especially on Sundays. These were the very hours Husted sought to cut before federal courts stopped him.
- During the same time period, Doug Preisse, who chairs the Franklin County, Republican Party and serves on Franklin County’s elections board, showed his disdain for Souls to the Polls, in which parishioners from black churches communally traveled to elections boards to vote, after church services end. “I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban—read African-American—voter turnout machine,” Preisse told the Columbus Dispatch. Damschroder admitted Husted did nothing to investigate this apparent discriminatory attitude, while firing Montgomery County board members who resisted Husted’s efforts to cut such early voting.
- Damschroder admitted that Husted’s own studies prove that voter fraud in Ohio is “infinitesimal” and does not justify the challenged statutes. Yet DeWine and Husted continue in their legal briefing to insist that the statutes are justified by this non-existent fraud.
In North Carolina, the 4th Circuit noted that lawmakers specifically asked for racial breakdowns of certain methods of voting—absentee voting, early voting, out-of-precinct voting, and same-day voter registration—then eliminated or scaled back all options that blacks used more than whites.
While the 4th Circuit commended the trial court, it disagreed with its conclusion that the legislature did not intend the new law to be discriminatory and said the court ignored “critical facts’’ such as “the inextricable link between race and politics in North Carolina.’’
In the Ohio case, the trial court tossed out some new restrictions but also did not conclude that the remaining ones were intentionally discriminatory. Chandra is asking the 6th Circuit to rule they were, or at least remand the case back to the trial court for further consideration.
Ever since a divided U.S. Supreme Court weakened the Voting Rights Act, states have passed a series of new laws usually promoted as ways to crack down on largely non-existent voter fraud.
Congress currently has two bipartisan VRA restoration bills languishing without action.
“As we approach the first presidential election in 50 years without a fully functioning VRA, the stakes have never been higher,’’ Chandra said. “Congress must restore the VRA.