Split Decision on Counting Absentee and Provisional Ballots

The Appeals Court split on the changes in Ohio law that threw out absentee and provisional ballots with technical mistakes.  We won at the Federal District Court and there was a split at the Appeals Court level.  Two Appeals Court judges did not find the violations were discriminatory or violated the Voting Rights Act.  But Judge Damon Keith provided an amazing dissent providing a historical look at the individuals who had died attempting to help every person vote.  He gave a brief biography and photograph of those who were killled in "The Martyrdom and Struggle for Equal Protection."   The dissent is worth a read for anyone studying the importance and need for the Voting Rights Act in America.  He put a face on the struggle for equal protection with the 36 individuals killed for working to have every person's vote count in America.  We will post more information on the decision after we figure out how this will impact the November vote.  But for now click here is the full decision

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Homeless Voting Victory: State Will Appeal

We spent a ton of time at the end of last year and the beginning of 2016, working to protect people who took the time to vote to assure that their ballot was counted.  We found that thousands of Ohioans attempted to vote by mail or were forced to vote by Provisional ballot and because of a minor error in the envelope they returned their vote was thrown in the trash.  This included not counting ballots with readable cursive writing where it says "print name" or those older folks who accidentally mixed up a digit on the envelope.  Remember, for the most part on the absentee ballot envelope the critical information is printed by the Board of Elections on the envelope.  So, the boards were not confused over the person's identity.  They were just tripping people up for minor critical errors to exclude voters.  There was no legitimate reason for this hypercritical look at the envelopes.  Federal Court judge Algenon Marbley agreed with us and struck down this law.  With the restoration of Golden Week this is the second time in the last few weeks that a Husted supported change in the voting process was overturned by the courts. 

Here are a few media outlets which featured stories on this issue:

We held another training yesterday for social service providers and you can keep updated on all the information on homeless voting by clicking on the "Vote" button on our website. 

The Secretary of State almost immediately announced that he would appeal this decision.  As a participant in the trial, I have to say that the state's case was weak from the beginning.  They never explained:

  • Why there was a disparity in various counties in the enforcement of these rules?  Why were small counties more forgiving when compared to big counties? 
  • Why did the state need this law?  What problem were they trying to correct? I thought the core of the Republican agenda was getting rid of unnecessary regulations?
  • Why was there no opportunity to correct these issues instead of automatically disenfranchising the voter?
  • Why does this law disproportionately impact elderly and low income individuals?

 Our side explained the history of voter suppression activities in the state legislation.  There were concerns from the witnesses to overturn this law over racist billboards and highly offensive comments by Ohio political leaders about lower income minority voters.  We attempted to refute the state's case that this only impacted a smaller number of voters so it is not a big deal.  I raised the concern that the Secretary of State was championing the dozen of fraudulant voters (out of millions cast) in his Annual Report to voters while not mentioning the thousands of legitimate voters who lost their right to vote because they were not careful in reading, understanding and putting down their information.

We have to congratulate our attorney Subodh Chandra and the woman who did a ton of the work on the case locally, Sandhya Gupta.  Ms. Gupta gave up sleep for a month to answer all the State's questions and respond to all the depositions.  She did an amazing amount of work on this case and we are so glad that all her work paid off.  Ms. Gupta was so supportive and such a quiet yet powerful advocate for voter rights in Ohio.  Thanks to Caroline Gentry and Don McTigue for all their work making the case for counting every legitimate vote cast in the election. 

by Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Judge Marbley Decision Posted on our Website

Back at the beginning of August, Federal Judge Alegenon Marbley decided in our favor to extend the agreement between NEOCH and the State of Ohio until 2016.   This will standardize how provisional ballots are counted and will assist homeless people to vote in the upcoming Presidential election in person on Election Day.  We posted the entire decision here.  It is good reading because Judge Marbley has some wonderful language defending his decision.  

"This Court hopes that Ohio's boards of election would continue to implement Ohio's voting laws with the same uniformity that they have since the entry of the Consent Decree.  Asis from the Consent Decree, however, there is nothing to prevent boards of election from returning to those haphazard and, in some cases, illegal practices, which previously resulted in the invalidation of validly cast ballots from registered voters."

This goes through a nice history of the case leading up to the need for this agreement.  It details the struggles by two previous Secretaries of State to implement this poorly written law from the lame duck session of 2005.  The decision does a really nice job thinking through possible challenges to the ruling to extend the agreement through 2016.  It was also nice to see that he had a nice grasp of all the facts of the case and how this decision played out on the streets of Ohio. 

"A citizen's right to vote, however, cannot be at the mercy of the shifting legal interpretations of a single state officer, no matter how well intentioned he or she is.  The Secretary of State changes frequently and while the current Secretary may continue to instruct boards of election to count the ballots of Social Security Number last 4 digit voters, there is no guarantee his successor will follow suit.   The Court also observes that, on more than one occasion, Secretary Husted has attempted to make eleventh hour changes to Ohio's voting system."

Check out the full decision on our website.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry

Protecting Access to the Ballot Box

We lost the appeal that the Secretary of State launched over his last minute directive before the November Election.  The federal district court Algenon Marbley (appointed by President Clinton) had blasted the Secretary of State Jon Husted for issuing this directive only four days before the election late in the evening on Friday.  He had said that it changed state policy from what had happened in the past and what his own lawyers had argued in court only 12 days before this directive.  Judge Marbley believed that the directive violated the Ohio State voting law.

For more information go to our Election Events Blog...

We Tried to Protect Legitimate Voters

We lost the appeal that the Secretary of State launched over his last minute directive before the November Election.  The federal district court Algenon Marbley (appointed by President Clinton) had blasted the Secretary of State Jon Husted for issuing this directive only four days before the election late in the evening on Friday.  He had said that it changed state policy from what had happened in the past and what his own lawyers had argued in court only 12 days before this directive.  Judge Marbley believed that the directive violated the Ohio State voting law. 

A panel of the three appeals court judges (appointed by both of the Bush Presidents) disagreed with Marbley.  These judges said that we should have raised these issues weeks ago.  They felt that the local Boards could not count these votes at this point, which would be contrary to the law.  Since the affirmation may not be filled in correctly, the appeals court judges believed that any direction by the courts to count these voters would be to allow anyone without identification to vote on election day.  The appeals court found that we should have taken this up in State Court, and that Marbley had expanded our agreement improperly. 

Here is the statement from our attorney Subodh Chandra, who has done exhaustive work on protecting the right to vote in Ohio:

"My clients are disappointed that the Sixth Circuit panel's decision is unfaithful to its own precedent, evades the facts on how Secretary Husted's eleventh-hour actions were contrary to Ohio law and court order, and effectively licenses the Secretary in his latest scheme to disenfranchise voters. And there will be legitimate provisional voters disenfranchised as a result of this ruling. Unfortunately, right now, we won't be able to know exactly who they are, because the Secretary and Attorney General are also hiding the provisional voters' identities behind a veil of secrecy."

Jon Husted issued a statement that said:
"Despite efforts of those who sought to create controversy where none existed, we ran a smooth election in Ohio and did so according to the law and the Constitution. Today's court ruling is vindication. "
My response to all of this is:
We tried to make sure that every legitimate voter who came to vote was allowed to vote.  We did not want a confusing form, a confusing set of instructions, or bad advice from County employees to trash a legal voter.  I can't even imagine how this could be considered a smooth election.  Anytime there are multiple lawsuits, lines that last longer than an hour, and multiple fights at the local level on even the hours of voting, this cannot be considered a "smooth election."  Considering that the training for poll workers was done weeks ago, I cannot come up with one reason for issuing this directive at 7 pm. on the Friday before the election except to cause confusion and suppress legitimate votes in poorer areas of the state. 
The state estimated that there were 2,000 of the 200,000 provisional ballots were not filled out correctly and would be thrown out.  We will see on Monday when the count is released.  These are legitimate voters who showed up to vote but did not have the proper ID, so they filled out a provisional ballot.  Then they had to complete the affirmation on their own and made a mistake.  These are eligible voters who just could not follow the directions on the envelope of the form and will have their ballot thrown away.  It is a shame that the Secretary of State will not face any consequence for waiting so long to issue this directive.
Brian Davis

Go Vote!!

It is time to cast your ballot on Election Day if you have not done it to this point.   We have seen so many obstacles put in our way in order to cast our ballots, but November 6 is the last day.  If you are forced to vote a provisional ballot, be careful.  Election officials in Columbus have made it difficult to complete.  If I had to vote a provisional ballot, I would ask the election precinct judge for help filling out the affirmation.  The forms seems to indicate that it is up to the voter to complete, but the poll worker is supposed to complete the form.  Bottom line is that everyone should avoid the provisional ballot like the you avoid a robocall.  But if you do not have an ID or they cannot find you in the poll book and you are sure that you are voting at the correct precinct, then carefully complete the provisional ballot, the envelope and the affirmation form. 

Secretary of State Jon Husted took away three weekend voting opportunities that we had in 2008.  Some of the Boards of Elections had to hold early voting in poor locations without parking such as the Summit County office because the board split on finding a more appropriate place to host early voting.  We had over one hour waits on two of the last days early voting in much of the state.  The Secretary of State fought all attempts allow as many Ohioans as possible to vote.  He attempted to limit the number of provisional ballots that were counted.  The Secretary of State tried to cancel our agreement over voting for people without identification.  We lost two days of Golden Week, and we had to pay to mail our ballots back after early voting.  We had to have the same hours for early voting as Holmes County and small Vinton County even though we had nearly 10 times the population.

With all this adversity, it is critical to vote.  We shall overcome in order to participate in democracy.  If you have any problems call Election Protection.  The number is 1-866-OUR-VOTE, and they can help with election questions, clarifications, and can send help if you think that your rights are being denied.  NEOCH is offering rides from every shelter, and we can offer information about voting to anyone who calls about identification, provisional voting or where to vote.  We want to work to get as many homeless people as possible to contribute to selecting our leaders.

Brian

Ohio the Center of the Political Universe

NEOCH and SEIU had a victory this week in the court case regarding the counting of provisional ballots.  We have a write up on our Homeless Voting blog here.  This issue was reported in every paper in Ohio and nearly every national paper, because Ohio is so critical for this upcoming Presidential election.  There are racist, offensive billboards springing up in African American neighborhoods.  Our airwaves are clogged of political ads, and groups are working to challenge voters ability to vote.   This is what living in one of six swing states during a Presidential election.

There was a story on the front page on the Washington Page site regarding the Obama campaign lawsuit against the State of Ohio to keep the polling places open on the weekend before the election.  The case was appealed to the US Supreme Court and we hope that they will make their decision quickly so that we can make plans for these next three weeks.  NEOCH is transporting homeless and low income people to the Board of Election to vote early.   We are working to provide a ride to every shelter in Cleveland to encourage homeless people to vote early when they will not be pestered about identification.  

In another blow to getting every legitimate voter to cast a ballot that actually gets counted, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted has ruled that County Boards of Elections cannot send an e-mail out to a voter to say that their vote by mail ballot envelope was messed up.   These are voters who listed their phone or e-mail address (volunteering this information) so obviously do not mind being contacted by phone or e-mail.   The Secretary has said that the local boards can only send mail to the voters to have them correct the envelope.  This does not make any sense.  We live in an age when people can receive information on their cell phone, and yet our Secretary of State is preventing the Boards from using all the tools at their disposal to contact voters to correct an error so that their ballot will count.  Every decision, every action is amplified, and everything is in conflict in a swing state during the election season.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Voting Activities 40 Days from the Deadline

Photo by Sabrina OtisThanks to Bishop Cosgrove Center, Family Promise, Y-Haven, North Star Re-Entry Drop In Center, Norma Herr Center for helping with voting this week. 

1. The Big News for this week is that the Coalition had another victory in court!!  In case you did not see in the Tuesday Plain Dealer, a federal judge sided with us ordering the state to issue a directive that the local boards of elections must count provisional ballots including those that were the result of poll worker error.  We are still encouraging homeless people to vote early, but those that do show up on election day without ID and are misdirected to the wrong table or directed to fill out the form incorrectly by the poll worker their ballot will still count.  The Secretary of State has vowed to appeal, but it is an important victory to assure that those we get to vote will likely have their vote count. 

2. With a little over one month left to register people to vote it is important that we all inquire with our clients that those we meet can receive mail at the place that they are registered.  The State is going to send a vote by mail registration to every voter in the next few weeks.  Those that come back in the mail will force the board to mark that voter as inactive and they could then have to vote with a provisional ballot in November.  So, people may feel that they are registered, but if they lost their house or were evicted they need to update their registration.  This is the first major election with Central Intake, which is a tremendous opportunity in the community to correct every single person’s registration.   Everyone that comes into Central Intake should fill out a form in these last 30 days to update their registration.  After October 9, they cannot correct their registration and will have to vote at the place that they were last registered.   But this is a unique opportunity to have everyone who becomes homeless in Cuyahoga County update their information so that they can participate in deciding who will be President, Senator, Ohio Supreme Court judge and federal representative.  We all have seen the attempts to suppress the votes of people without income to afford a birth certificate, minority voters who went to the polls to vote on the weekend with their churches, and minimum wage workers who cannot take off work to vote during the day but are skeptical of voting by mail.  We need your help to get these voters to register and to convince people that early voting or voting by mail is just as secure as election day voting. There are a ton of issues coming up that will have a huge impact on homeless people and the continued employment of those who serve homeless people.  The implementation of health care reform, possible block granting of homeless funding to the states to distribute those funds to other programs, or cuts to Medicaid or food stamps, or the fiscal cliff we are all facing at the end of the year with the federal budget will all be voted on in early 2013.  The bottom line is this is an important election and we need everyone to participate.

3. NEOCH believes that the best option for homeless people is to vote by mail.  Those voters will need to fill out the vote by mail application and send it to the Board.  You can get a copy of the vote by mail from the Cuyahoga Board of Election site or on our website:  /homeless-voting/ .  You can print these out and make copies of these forms for your clients.  If you turn these in with the registration you should staple the two forms together so that they do not get separated over at the board of elections. 

4. Finally, here are a few more details on that training that the Ohio Votes is hosting in Cleveland--September 11 at Trinity Cathedral. You can use the link below to sign up your staff for this training.  There are CEUs available to social workers.  http://www.nonprofitvote.org/voter-engagement-training-cleveland.html.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinions of those who sign the entry

Another Victory Over Voter Suppression Activities

Yesterday Judge Algenon Marbley has once again ruled in our favor of protecting all legal voters in Ohio and assuring that their ballot are counted.  (I still do not understand why the Plain Dealer does not use our name in the coverage of this court case.  This is our hometown paper but referred to us as a "local homeless coalition?")  We have documented the progess of this case here, and here.  This latest decision orders the state to issue an order to the local boards of elections that they must count all provisional ballots including those which are submitted as a result of poll worker error. Jon Husted, Ohio Secretary of State, and a spokesperson has already told the media that he plans to appeal the order.    The story was picked up by a number of national outlets including this story in the Washington Post.

“Recent experience proves that our elections are decided, all too often, by improbably slim margins — not just in local races . . . but even for the highest national offices,” U.S. District Judge Algenon L. Marbley wrote. “Any potential threat to the integrity of the franchise, no matter how small, must therefore be treated with the utmost seriousness.”

The problem with Husted continued appeal of this case which goes back to 2006 is that it confuses the electorate.  We only have 40 days until the registration deadline, and the state has not given clear directions to the local boards over voting procedures for the November election.  Husted is creating an atmosphere of uncertainty over the election, which will just produce questions in the mind of the voters.  Most see all this debate and all these lawsuits as undermining the confidence in voting procedures. 

Husted took on this fight.  This was a settled issue with an agreement signed in 2010 that would have extended until 2013.  There was no reason to wade back into this issue.  He could have spent his time working on ways to train poll workers on the proper procedures, providing guidance to the local boards on how to work to count every vote, and provide every opportunity to broaden the number of voters.  Instead he limited voting hours, cancelled our agreement, and injected politics into every single decision. 

The close case of 23 votes separating two juvenile court judges in Cincinnati were instructive on the power of the provisional voting.  The initial winner, a Republican, saw his victory turn into a loss after provisional votes were counted using the directive from our agreement.  After two years of fighting in Hamilton County, the courts decided to count all the votes including those in which the poll worker instructed the voter incorrectly.   This resulted in Tracie Hunter, a Democrat, won the election and took her seat earlier this year.  It provides a living example of why this agreement is so important for the voters of Ohio. 

Just because some poorly trained worker tells a voter to go to the wrong table to vote or tells the voter to incorrectly fill out the form that should not result in that voters entire ballot being wasted.  It is crazy to think that the voter did everything they were told to do, and their vote for President, Senator, House member or local school board levy is thrown away.  This is an indefensible position that the court agreed with us that we need these rules to protect voters. 

Brian

Entries are the opinion of those who sign the post

 

Federal Court to Rule on Counting Provisional Ballots

Yes, we are the "local homeless coalition" in the Plain Dealer today.  That seems strange that the Cleveland Plain Dealer would not identify the Cleveland Homeless Coalition, and kind of a jab at us.  I mean they called SEIU by their number indicating the city of origin, but we only received  a generic homeless coalition.

Anyway, we had a hearing on the Ohio Secretary of State's attempt to eliminate the agreement we signed with the state in 2010.  Both the Plain Dealer and Dayton Daily News covered the story (Our name was mentioned in Dayton--thanks).  As we have described in previous posts, the last Secretary of State signed an agreement with us to correct a problem in which voters who had given bad information had their ballots thrown out.  They took the time to show up at the polls, but they did not have the proper ID.  They voted with a provisional ballot by giving their last four digits of their social security number, but the poll worker directed them to the wrong table to vote.  So, the individual hired and trained by the Board of Elections makes a mistake and the state wants the voter to be punished by having their ballot thrown in the trash. 

We made a common sense agreement that if you tried to vote and through no fault of your own, the county employee directs you to the wrong place your vote should still count.  It was the "bank error in your favor" Monopoly card of the voting world.  The state's position is like being arrested for a serious crime and the state discovering their mistake within 10 days, but decides to keep you in jail so they do not have to admit their mistake.  Secretary of State Jon Husted's position is that there is nothing in the law that would allow a ballot filed in the wrong place to ever count.  So, because the law is silent on poll worker error, the state is forced to disenfranchise thousands of voters. 

The real reason that they are doing this is that these provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct actually made a difference in an election, and they did not want to happen again.  In Hamilton County, a democratic juvenile court judge was given the position in 2012 after initially losing her election in 2010.  Hamilton County Board of Elections tried to stop this, and the state legislature tried to stop this, but after a two year court battle Judge Tracie Hunter finally prevailed using our settlement.  We should know if thousands of voters will be disenfrancisedby August of 2012. 

Brian

VICTORY FOR VOTING RIGHTS IN OHIO

Federal judge orders Republican House leaders to stop efforts to interfere with Ohio voting-rights consent decree, in presidential-election year
 
Niehaus and Blessing ordered to dismiss “forthwith” an Ohio Supreme Court case that sought to re-impose voting-rights violations that federal Consent Decree corrects
 
COLUMBUS, OHIO –U.S. District Judge Algenon Marbley today ordered Ohio House leaders to cease their efforts to interfere with a federal Consent Decree that protects Ohioans’ voting rights. The order enjoins Republican legislative leaders Thomas E. Niehaus and Louis W. Blessing, Jr. from pursuing a case that the two filed on April 16 before the Ohio Supreme Court—and orders the legislators to dismiss the case “forthwith.” The case seeks to undermine a voting-rights Consent Decree the plaintiffs obtained in April 2010 from Judge Marbley. The Decree was issued in the case now captioned as Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, et al. v. Husted, et al. U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio Case No. 2:06-cv-896. The injunction was sought by plaintiffs, the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1199, joined by intervenor the Ohio Democratic Party.
 
Niehaus is the Ohio Senate President and Blessing is the Ohio House Speaker Pro Tempore.
 
In issuing his order, Judge Marbley held that there could be “no reasonable dispute” that as leaders of Ohio’s General Assembly suing in their “official” capacities in the name of the State of Ohio, Niehaus and Blessing were acting as agents of the State of Ohio, despite the State‘s prior agreement to enter into the Decree. The Judge in the hearing announcing his decision said that federal courts would be protective of “the right of the franchise” and invoked the federal All Writs Act that enables federal courts to protect their jurisdiction and judgments against interference.
 
The Decree requires the Secretary of State to direct Ohio’s 88 county election boards to count certain provisional ballots where poll workers make mistakes. For example, ballots must be counted where poll workers (1) wrongly allowed the voter to cast a vote in the wrong precinct (but right polling place), (2) wrongly allowed the voter not to complete or sign the provisional-ballot application, or (3) incorrectly failed to complete or sign the provisional-ballot application for the voter. These have been common government-worker errors in the election.
 
Plaintiffs’ counsel Subodh Chandra, a Cleveland attorney, said, “Judge Marbley’s decision ensures that legitimate voters do not lose their right to vote when government workers make mistakes. One would hope that these legislators stop their efforts—on the eve of a presidential election—to undermine the right to vote.”
 
Critically, the Decree protects those who lack the state-mandated forms of ID that require a person to have financial means (such as a utility bill, bank statement, or current driver’s license reflecting a current address), by ensuring that voters who provide social-security numbers to prove their identities will have their provisional ballots counted. The Decree thus reached a compromise regarding plaintiffs’ concerns that the voter-ID law was a poll tax and disenfranchised voters who are poor or transient. After all, for example, many poor people do not have utility or bank statements in their names.
 
Prior to the November 2008 election, the plaintiffs had produced evidence that election boards intended to apply widely varying rules to provisional ballots. Boards across the state, for example, were divided on whether to accept or reject a ballot that did not include the voter’s date of birth. The Decree resolved that confusion and lack of uniformity by clearly providing that such ballots must be counted.
 
In the related Hunter v. Hamilton County Board of Elections case, S.D. Ohio 1:10-cv-00820, filed in 2010 before Judge Susan Dlott, substantial evidence emerged of poll-worker errors, in which poll workers would regularly direct voters to the wrong precinct. Judge Dlott in that case ordered that such ballots be re-made to conform to the correct precinct and be counted, relying in part on the Consent Decree that the legislators sought to undermine. Judge Dlott further found that governmental efforts to throw out such votes violate the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution.
 
Caroline Gentry of Dayton and Daniel B. Miller from Porter Wright, and Subodh Chandra and Ashlie Case Sletvold of Cleveland, represent both the Homeless Coalition and SEIU Local 1199. SEIU is also co-represented by San Francisco attorneys Stacey Leyton, Stephen P. Berzon, Danielle Leonard, Diana Reddy, and Columbus attorneys Michael J. Hunter and Catherine J. Harshman. Intervenor, the Ohio Democratic Party, is represented by Donald J. McTigue of Columbus.
 

Voting Hearing Announced

Monday May 7 at the US Courthouse in Cleveland

The US Senate has announced a hearing for Cleveland Ohio on May 7, 2012.  Here are the details that we have received:

Field Hearing Details:  The Subcommittee on the Constitution Civil Rights and Human Rights will hold a field hearing examining the impact of the new state voting laws that have recently swept the country, including HB 194 in Ohio.  Among other things, HB 194 restricts early voting, limits the distribution of absentee ballots, and no longer requires poll workers to direct voters to their proper precincts.  The hearing will be held the morning of Monday, May 7, 2012 in Cleveland, Ohio at the Carl Stokes US Federal Courthouse on Superior and Huron near the Detroit Superior Bridge at 9:30 a.m. 

This is being organized Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois with assistance from Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio. We understand the Congresswomen Fudge will be testifying along with other state and local activists. We encourage everyone who is concerned about the disenfranchisement of poor people at the ballot box to attend.  We will provide more details as the date gets closer.  We have concerns with identification issues, counting provisional ballots, and local boards cutting the number of polling places.    We have an entire section on homeless people participation in voting on our website here.

Brian