For Immediate Release
Friday, September 1, 2006
Jonathan Rosen, Berlin Rosen Public Affairs, 917 803–6176
Jehmu Greene, Project Vote, 202 486–1705
Katy Gall, ACORN, 614 638–1562
Laurie Boeder, PFAW, 202 441–5814
Robert Brandon, Robert Brandon & Associates, 202 641–8473
Court Blocks Law Creating New Obstacles to Voter Registration
Decision Comes Four Days After Judge in Florida
Struck Down Similar Registration Restrictions
CLEVELAND, OH – A federal court in Cleveland blocked enforcement of an Ohio state law enacted earlier this year that would have imposed crippling requirements on voter registration groups. The plaintiffs, civic and religious organizations and voting rights groups that have been working in Ohio through many election cycles without government interference, say that the law had dramatically curtailed their efforts to help eligible voters get on the rolls.
“This is a win for democracy, and coming on the heels of the similar decision in Florida on Monday, the beginning of a national trend of courts rejecting unreasonable barriers to voter registration,” stated Wendy Weiser, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law and co-counsel to the plaintiffs in both the Ohio and Florida cases.
“This decision and the Florida decision will send a message to states and could help head off comparable voter-suppression statutes in Georgia, New Mexico and Colorado,” continued Weiser.
“This is the third time in as many years that a federal judge said ‘No’ to a state’s efforts to restrict voter registration activities,” said Jehmu Greene, Project Vote’s National Director. “We hope other states learn the lesson that suppressing voter registration is not an option,” continued Greene.
At issue in the case, Project Vote v. Blackwell, were restrictions on voter registration in the state of Ohio enacted by House Bill 3 and the rules and procedures for voter registration set out by the Secretary of State that have drastically limited the ability of civic groups to register new voters and threatened individual registration workers with felony charges for minor mistakes in complying with the new rules. The plaintiffs successfully argued that the rules will limit voter registration, unnecessarily exclude eligible voters from the election process, and suppress the vote in Ohio.
The plaintiffs contested a procedure required by the Ohio Secretary of State that would have changed the process for returning voter registration forms collected by non-partisan civic groups conducting voter registration drives. In the past, citizens working to register voters were able to turn in the completed forms to a civic group or church that would review the forms for accuracy, turn them into the registrar, and follow up later to make sure the voter was actually registered. The rule enjoined today would have made it a crime to designate one person to hand in the forms collected in a drive; each volunteer or worker would have had to go personally to the election offices to deliver every form collected.
Plaintiffs also successfully argued that rules that require online training excluded low-income citizens and civic groups who don’t have computers, as well as individuals with disabilities.
“This is a win for Ohio voters that reaffirms the critical role civic groups play in helping hundreds of thousands of unregistered citizens come into the political process and become voters each year,” stated Mary Keith, State Board Chair of Ohio ACORN.
“More than 50 million Americans are not registered to vote,” said Elliot Mincberg, Legal Director of People for the American Way Foundation. “This ruling sends a message to officials in Ohio and other states that they should applaud civic groups – not penalize them – for tirelessly working to strengthen our democracy,” continued Mincberg.
The plaintiffs in the suit include: Project Vote, ACORN, People For the American Way Foundation, Communities of Faith Assemblies Church, and Common Cause Ohio. These groups have all planned voter registration drives in coming months that were threatened by Ohio’s new rules.
Plaintiffs are represented by the law firm of Perkins, Coie LLP, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, the McTigue Law Group, People For the American Way Foundation, and Brian W. Mellor.