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Court Case

Republican Party of Ohio v. Secretary Brunner

The Ohio Republican Party sued Ohio's Secretary of State alleging that various policies adopted by the Secretary violated federal and state law. Among the claims was that Ohio was not in compliance with provisions of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 ("HAVA").

Published: October 13, 2008

In Brief – On October 17, 2008, the United States Supreme Court issued a stay in this case. Click here to download the ruling.

In Republican Party of Ohio v. Brunner, the Ohio Republican Party sued Ohio's Secretary of State, alleging that various policies adopted by the Secretary, Ohio's chief election officer, violated federal and state law. Among the claims was that Ohio was not in compliance with provisions of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 ("HAVA") which require states to attempt to "match" information provided by citizens who apply to register to vote with the motor vehicle and Social Security databases.

Plaintiffs filed their complaint on September 26, 2008 and, on October 5th, filed a motion for a temporary restraining order ("TRO") as to their HAVA compliance claim. After briefing and a hearing, the district court granted the motion for TRO on October 9th, and the Secretary immediately filed an emergency motion for a stay of the TRO order in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

The Brennan Center filed an amicus brief in the Sixth Circuit, supporting the request for a stay. The brief explained that plaintiffs were wrong to argue that HAVA required registration applicants to be successfully matched before they could be deemed eligible to vote. On October 9th, the Sixth Circuit granted the motion for a stay. Less than a week later, however, the full Sixth Circuit, sitting en banc, vacated the stay and restored the district court's TRO.

The Secretary of State responded to the en banc opinion by issuing a statement stating that it is "imperative that voters not be disenfranchised because of federal government red tape, misstated technical information or glitches in databases beyond the control of voters . . . ", and promptly sought review from the U.S. Supreme Court.

On October 17, 2008, the Supreme Court vacated the TRO, protecting hundreds of thousands of Ohio citizens from disenfranchisement-by-typo.

In Detail – The Republican Party of Ohio brought suit against the state's Secretary of State on September 26, 2008, alleging three claims:

  • Whether a directive of the Secretary of State violated state law by creating a five-day window between 35 and 30 days before the election (the "5-day window") within which voters could simultaneously register and cast an absentee ballot;
  • Whether an Advisory of the Secretary of State stating that county boards of elections were not required to permit political party observers at polling places during the 5-day window would permit different practices from county to county, and thus result in violations of the Equal Protection clause; and
  • Whether Ohio's statewide voter registration database was in violation of the Help America Vote Act ("HAVA") because it did not condition voters' eligibility to vote a regular ballot on a successful "match" of the voter's information against the state motor vehicle or the Social Security database.

Plaintiffs initially moved for a TRO on the first 2 claims, regarding absentee voting during the 5-day window and whether observers would be permitted at the polls during that time period. The district court granted the motion in part; and an immediate appeal was taken. The Sixth Circuit promptly granted a stay of the district court's TRO, guaranteeing that voters could register and cast ballots in the 5-day window, and that the Secretary was not compelled to allow polling place challengers in the 5-day window.

Next, on October 5th, plaintiffs filed a second motion for a TRO on their claim that Ohio's voter registration system was not compliant with HAVA's voter verification provisions. After briefing and a hearing, the district court granted the motion for TRO on October 9th, and the Secretary immediately filed an emergency motion for a stay of the TRO order in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

The Brennan Center filed an amicus brief in the Sixth Circuit, supporting the request for a stay. The brief explained that plaintiffs were wrong to argue that HAVA required registration applicants to be successfully matched before they could be deemed eligible to vote. On October 9th, the Sixth Circuit granted the motion for a stay. Less than a week later, however, the full Sixth Circuit, sitting en banc, vacated the stay and restored the district court's TRO. The Secretary of State responded to the en banc opinion by issuing a statement stating that it is "imperative that voters not be disenfranchised because of federal government red tape, misstated technical information or glitches in databases beyond the control of voters . . . ", and promptly sought review from the U.S. Supreme Court.

On October 17, 2008, the Supreme Court vacated the TRO, protecting hundreds of thousands of Ohio citizens from disenfranchisement-by-typo. 

Court of Appeals Documents

Supreme Court Ruling (10/17/08)
En Banc Order and Opinion (10/14/08)
Brennan Center Amicus Brief (10/10/08)