PRESS RELEASE from Advancement Project

Judge Blocks Ohio’s “Wrong Precinct” Law

Contact: Rich Robinson, Advancement Project

August 27, 2012

(Columbus, OH) – In a decision that reversed the disenfranchisement of thousands of eligible Ohio voters, U.S. District Judge Algenon Marbley struck down the state’s “wrong precinct” law. Marbley said that provisional ballots cannot be rejected if poll workers do not direct voters to the correct location to cast their ballots. Previously, those votes were allowed to go uncounted.

“This ruling reflects the common sense that voters should not be disenfranchised because of an election official’s error,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Judith Browne Dianis. “Under the Constitution, every ballot cast by an eligible voter should count, and today’s decision ensures that will happen in Ohio.”

In the lawsuit, brought on the behalf of several labor and community organizations, attorneys from Advancement Project and Service Employees International Union argued that Ohio’s law unconstitutionally penalizes thousands of voters for poll worker errors that disproportionately impacted African Americans.

The ruling is an important decision for Ohio voters who have followed the rules and it did was asked of them to vote, only to have their ballots rejected. Under Judge Marbley's decision, these voters will no longer be disenfranchised.

Provisional ballots are cast more frequently in Ohio than in almost all other states. In 2008, 14,000 provisional ballots were thrown out because they were cast in the wrong precinct.

“In an extremely thorough and meticulously reasoned decision, the court held that thousands of Ohio provisional ballots will now have to be counted if they are cast in the wrong precinct because of poll worker error,” said advancement Project Co-Director Penda Hair. “The court found that the state’s interests do not justify the arbitrary denial of the fundamental right to vote.”

Multi-precinct voting locations, where these problems are most likely to occur, are particularly common in urban counties with the highest populations of African-American voters. In Cuyahoga County, for example, 94 percent of precincts are assigned to multiple-precinct polling locations. In the four counties with the state’s highest concentration of minority voters, thousands of ballots have been rejected under the “wrong precinct” law, even though the voter was eligible and in the correct polling place.

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