Signs of life in Ohio

Ohio’s voter registration regulations challenged
Thursday, July 06, 2006
Ted Wendling
Plain Dealer Bureau

Columbus – Less than two weeks ago, a Republican-controlled legislative panel approved rigorous voter-registration rules that lawmakers ruefully predicted would be challenged in court.

Make way for the lawyers.

A coalition of voter-registration groups and civic organizations has called a news conference for 10 a.m. today outside the U.S. District Courthouse in Cleveland to announce the filing of a lawsuit against Secretary of State Ken Blackwell and other public officials.

The suit will request an injunction, claiming a reform law passed by the General Assembly last year, followed by rules Blackwell’s office drafted, have all but ended the groups’ voter-registration activities in Ohio.

“At this point, the effects are chilling,” said Donita Judge, a staff attorney at the Advancement Project, a Washington-based voter-education group, and co-counsel in the suit being filed in Cleveland. “It’s just killed voter registration,” she added, resulting in an all-but-certain “dilution of the minority vote.”

James Lee, a spokesman for Blackwell’s office, lashed out at the groups, saying the law was supported by an analysis by the nonpartisan Legislative Service Commission and upheld by the Joint Committee for Agency Rule Review.

“This is nothing more than a frivolous lawsuit that will further bog down our already overburdened court system,” he said.

Lee also questioned why Blackwell was being sued when JCARR approved the rules and suggested that the lawsuit was being filed in federal court to drag the case out “for their political advantage.”

The lawsuit will claim that the registration and training requirements violate the free-speech rights of low-paid registrars by burdening them with the responsibility of personally returning registration cards and imposing potential felony penalties for failing to do so.

It also will claim that Ohio’s attempt to impose an “anti-bundling” policy violates the intent of the National Voter Registration Act, which was to increase voter participation.

Judge said the effects of the law and rules disproportionately affect voter-registration drives in minority communities, where many residents don’t have transportation, lack the technological skills to register on-line and are, in some cases, “functionally illiterate.”

“They really depend on these third-party groups to assist them with voter registration,” she said.

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