Ohio’s 2020 primary election was scheduled to take place on Tuesday, March 17. On the evening of March 16, the Ohio Director of Public Health issued an order closing polling locations, noting that conducting an election the following day “would force poll workers and voters to face an unacceptable risk of contracting COVID-19.” Following this order, the Ohio Secretary of State issued a directive moving the date of the primary election to June 2. On March 25, the Ohio legislature passed a bill rescinding the Secretary of State’s directive and again moving the date of the primary election—this time to April 28—and mandating essentially an all vote-by-mail election.
The Ohio legislature mandated that the state send postcards to voters informing them that they could submit an application for an absentee ballot, and then, if the voter submits an absentee ballot application, send the voter a pre-paid absentee ballot. The Ohio legislature adopted this process and timeline despite warnings from the bi-partisan Ohio Association of Election Officials that the process the legislature set forth for administering the election could not be completed by April 28.
The bill passed by the Ohio legislature also mandates that the voter registration deadline for the 2020 primary remain February 18, despite the election having been pushed back.
On March 30, 2020, Demos filed a lawsuit on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, the Ohio A. Philip Randolph Institute, and Ohio voters alleging that (1) the timeline and process adopted by the Ohio legislature would deprive Ohio voters of their fundamental right to vote, and (2) the failure to move the registration deadline back violated the National Voter Registration Act, which mandates the voter registration deadline for a federal election be no earlier than 30 days prior to the election.
We asked the court to: (a) order county board of elections to directly mail primary ballots to all registered voters who have not already cast a ballot in this election, return postage pre-paid; (b) allow voters who do not receive a ballot in time to vote at the board of elections; (c) select an election date that would allow elections officials enough time to effectively administer the election and inform voters about how the primary election will proceed; and (d) set the registration date 30 days prior to the primary date, as required by federal law.
The State of Ohio, the Ohio Republican Party, and the Ohio Democratic Party all intervened as Defendants in the case, and the Ohio Libertarian Party intervened as a Plaintiffs.
Briefing concluded on April 3, 2020, and on that same day the District Court issued a decision allowing Ohio’s 2020 primary election to proceed as planned on April 28.
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, ACLU of Ohio
League of Women Voters of Ohio, Ohio A. Philip Randolph Institute, Munia Mostafa, Lashunda Lee, Audrianna Victorian Rodriguez, Hannah Tuvell