For Immediate Release: August 4, 2016
Contact: Sandy Theis (614) 940-0131
Rep. Alicia Reece, Black Ministers, Urge Federal Appeals Court to Declare Ohio Voter Suppression Laws Intentionally Discriminatory
CINCINNATI – State Rep. Alicia Reece (D-Cincinnati), who heads the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus, said Ohio has been part of a nationwide effort to limit voting opportunities that specifically hurt African-Americans and other minorities.
She was joined by black ministers outside the federal courthouse in Cincinnati hours before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit would take up a case to invalidate two Ohio voting laws passed in 2014.
“Neither your zip code nor your race should dictate whether or not your vote is counted,” Reece told the news conference. She used the occasion to call for adding a Voter Bill Rights to the Ohio Constitution, a cause that Reece has long championed.
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.
Joining Reece was civil rights lawyer Subodh Chandra who is arguing the case today. 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.
“The state legislature passed laws that intentionally limit voter participation by African-Americans and other groups that tend to favor Democrats, and the federal appeals court should find these limits unconstitutional,” said Chandra at the news conference.
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 Hamilton, Butler, Cuyahoga, Franklin, Lucas, and Summit routinely rejected such ballots.
Chandra also 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-Americans and other groups that favor Democrats,” he said. “The pattern is unmistakable, and the result is unconstitutional.”
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.
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.
Reece said, “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.”
She expressed disappointment that U.S. Senator Rob Portman has refused to take a position on legislation that would shore up the Voting Rights Act.
“It’s perfectly clear that the U.S. Supreme court weakened the VRA. That’s why so many states have felt comfortable passing voter suppression laws,” Reece said. “States have gone too far, that’s why courts in Texas, North Carolina, Michigan, Kansas, Ohio, and other states have struck them down. The 6th Circuit in Ohio needs to take it one step further and rule that the Ohio laws were intentionally discriminatory.”