Federal District Court Judge Algenon Marbley released his decision this morning to extend our agreement with the State of Ohio through the next Presidential Election at the end of 2016. We had asked for an agreement through 2024 (so three presidential elections) and we got one. This only means we need to work for a clarification of the law in the next four years or seek additional time on the agreement if there is still a need based on the issues that come up in 2014 or 2016. It is likely that the State of Ohio attorneys who advocated on behalf of Secretary of State Jon Husted that the agreement should end will appeal this decision.
The judge weighed the evidence submitted on both sides and found merit that the agreement should remain in place. In a finding of fact, the court found that the current law is deficient in that it does not allow voting using the last four digits of the social security number. The court decision says, "It is not clear how an election official distinguishes between a voter who has, but cannot provide an ID, and a voter who does not have ID." The court also found that the problems facing people without identification in Cleveland would be the same problem faced by all homeless Ohioans. My deposition was referenced showing that 20 to 30% of the homeless population do not have the proper identification to vote. Finally, the court found that before the agreement the interpretation of Ohio law by County Boards of Elections "varied wildly." Marbley's decision showed that in 2008 1,990 provisional ballots were rejected for lack of identification while in 2012 only 363 provisional ballots were rejected.
Much of the 21 page decision is aimed at the US Appeals Court and why this decision should be upheld by that court. There is a great deal on the why this decision falls within the parameters set in previous Appeals Court decisions on extending agreements. Former Secretary of State, Jennifer Brunner who negotiated an agreement during her tenure as Secretary of the State submitted a statement to the court declaring that there seemed to be "good cause" to extend the agreement. No one could have imagined that the state legislature would not have passed new legislation to clarify these identifcation rules by 2013.
We did not get all that we wanted, but this should withstand an appeal and will ensure that the next statewide and presidential election are fair to those low income people without identification. At the end of the day, County Boards should count provisional ballots with similar uniform standards throughout the state. If they do not there is some remedy with the court to resolve these issues and those who do not have their legitimate ballots counted will have a place to go to assert their right to vote. Unfortunately, since the 2004 politicizing of the Office of Secretary of State, voters have not found much help from that office in protecting their right to vote.
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