August 13, 2008
Columbus, Ohio —Nearly 600,000 eligible Ohio voters may be dropped from the voter rolls if Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner doesn't act to protect these voters, according to findings based on publicly available information discovered by Advancement Project and Project Vote. These voters – disproportionately voters of color and young voters – are subject to being removed from Ohio's voter registration rolls without notice or a hearing because of the state's vague regulations on vote caging. Advancement Project and Project Vote call upon Secretary Brunner to ensure that every eligible voter can vote on Election Day and have their votes counted.
In 2005, Ohio's General Assembly introduced a law, House Bill 3 (HB3) that overhauled Ohio's election system. The new election law requires boards of election to send voter information mailings and amends Ohio's challenge statutes. It enables a practice called voter caging, wherein voters can be purged from the rolls if they have problems with their mail. In particular, the new law requires that 88 county boards of election mail every single registered voter in their purview a non-forwardable notice letter 60 days before the election. Each board must make a list of any bounced letters that are returned as undeliverable. These lists, in turn, are made available as public records to individuals and groups seeking to use the list as a caging list to challenge voters.
The amended challenge law no longer requires the county boards to give all Ohio voters notice that their right to vote is being challenged or to permit a hearing for them to defend their right. Rather, the new election law permits the boards to review their own records and make a determination on the validity of the challenge.
"A single returned piece of mail is not a reliable basis for challenging the right to vote," said Donita Judge, Ohio staff attorney, Advancement Project. "Mail may be returned for many reasons, including errors in the database from which the mailing is derived, errors in the mailing labels, failure to include an apartment number or poor matching criteria."
Advancement Project and Project Vote encourage the Ohio Secretary of State, Jennifer Brunner to issue a directive prohibiting Ohio electors from challenging Ohio voters whose names appear on any returned mailings and/or any past, current or future caging list. Ohio has fair regulations in place to deal with returned election notices and address updates. Voter caging lists should not be permitted to effectively cancel these regulations. This is the best remedy to ensure that all Ohio voters are treated in a uniform manner during the November 2008 election because it permits the county boards to send out information to Ohio voters and at the same time ensures that all voters are permitted to vote without the threat of being placed on a list that is subject to challenge for no other reason than a returned mailing.
"Partisan, challengers who have obtained a list of returned letters shouldn't be allowed to strip Ohio voters of their right to update their addresses" said Teresa James, attorney with Project Vote. The lack of notice to challenged voters under Ohio’s 2006 challenge law allows this interference to take place quietly and behind closed doors. This violates the principles our nation was founded on. It is imperative that Secretary Brunner establish guidelines so that partisan challengers will not be permitted to lodge unfounded challenges that clog the election process, burden poll workers and disenfranchise eligible voters."
Ohio's current law is internally inconsistent. Ohio law permits voters who move from one precinct to another to change their address from 28 days prior to the election, up to and including Election Day. Yet, if a voter is challenged and removed from the rolls, without notice within that time, this cancels the voter’s statutory right to update an address because there is no longer a registration on file. It also violates Ohio law and equal protection of the laws because this voter is not provided the same meaningful opportunity to update a valid registration up to and including Election Day as other Ohio voters.
The new election law also unfairly impacts black and Latino Americans and other voters of color. Advancement Project anticipates that large numbers of voters of color will be included on the county generated caging lists because census data indicates that they move more frequently than white Americans. Based on historical voter caging practices, Project Vote has also found that voter caging disproportionately shuts out voters of color. Because college students change residences frequently, it is anticipated that large numbers of young voters will be included on the caging lists as well.
This law was effective beginning 2006 and covers all primary, general, and special elections from 2006 through the November 2008 General Election. Advancement Project and Project Vote find it extremely interesting, that this law "sunsets" effective January 1, 2009.
"Voter suppression and intimidation is driven by a desire to maintain the status quo," concluded Judge. "These acts are carried out in an effort to deprive certain Americans, especially those most marginalized, of a voice in our democracy. Election Day is the great equalizer – it is the one day where if all was right in our democracy, it would not matter if a person is rich, poor, black, white, educated or not, we all would have the same amount of power."
Demand Letter to Secretary Brunner Regarding Ohio's Voter Challenge Statutes. August 7, 2008
Letter to Secretary Brunner Regarding Ohio's Voter Challenge Statutes. April 14, 2008.
Letter to Secretary Brunner Regarding Ohio's Voter Challenge Statutes. September 19, 2007.