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Boustani v. Blackwell

Published: October 26, 2006
On August, 29, 2006, several voting rights organizations filed a complaint in a lawsuit in Ohio to ensure that all citizens, regardless of where they were born, are able to cast a ballot on Election Day. The Brennan Center joined the ACLU of Ohio, the Lawyers’ Committee, and the ACLU Voting Rights Project in filing a suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, challenging a provision of Ohio House Bill 3 which unfairly threatened to burden the voting rights of naturalized citizens.

The challenged provision would have allowed poll workers to inquire if a voter is a naturalized citizen and if so, to require those voters to provide proof that they were naturalized. If they could not provide proof at the polling place, the voter could cast a provisional ballot but must visit the Board of Elections with documentation within 10 days of the election. Those individuals who no longer had copies of their naturalization papers—new copies of which can cost more than $200 and take up to a year to obtain—would have been denied the right to vote altogether.

The statute did not require any similar documentation or proof of citizenship from native-born citizens. As such, the law singled out one group of U.S. citizens and placed an unfair extra burden on them to cast their ballot. Additionally, allowing poll workers to challenge someone’s ability to vote based on their place of birth would have opened the door to ethnic and racial profiling and would almost certainly have discouraged voting by racial minorities and other immigrant groups.

The proof of citizenship requirements would not have prevented ineligible non-citizens from voting. They instead would have operated as voter intimidation tactics preventing eligible citizens from participating in the electoral process.

Plaintiffs contended that the law discriminated against naturalized citizens and placed an undue and unnecessary burden on their right to vote, in violation of the 1st and 14th Amendments; violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because only naturalized citizens needed to show proof of citizenship and because such proof was not necessary to determine an individuals eligibility status; and constituted a poll tax on naturalized citizens, in violation of the 24th and 14th Amendments because individuals who need to replace or modify their naturalization papers must pay more than $200 to obtain a replacement certificate.

On October 4, 2006, the Court issued an order preliminarily and permanently enjoining the discriminatory provision. On October 26, 2006, District Judge Christopher Boyko, ordered that the statute was unconstitutional for imposing undue burden on the right to vote and unlawfully discriminatory by the Fourteenth Amendment.

Selected documents can be found below. All legal documents related to the case can be found here

District Court Papers