In 1974, the U.S. Supreme Court in O’Brien v. Skinner, held that pretrial detainees must be permitted to vote an absentee ballot like other eligible voters are unable to appear in person to vote. Ohio law, however, denies many pre-trial detainees access to an absentee ballot.
In Ohio, eligible voters who are arrested after the absentee ballot request deadline and detained through Election Day are prevented from exercising their fundamental right to vote. Each election, state law prevents thousands of registered Ohio voters who are detained after close of business the Friday before the election from requesting and receiving an absentee ballot in jail. However, individuals who are unable to vote in person due to an unforeseen hospitalization are permitted to request, receive, and cast a ballot in the days immediately preceding an election.
Tommy Ray Mays II and Quinton Nelson Sr., two registered Ohio voters who had been planning to vote in the November 2018 General Election, were arrested on misdemeanor charges after the absentee ballot cut-off deadline for the November 2018 General Election and were not going to be released until after Election Day. Mr. Mays and Mr. Nelson brought a class action lawsuit on Election Day alleging that Ohio's practice of denying late-jailed pre-trial detainees access to the ballot violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
The U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Ohio issued a temporary restraining order on Election Day, November 6, 2018, ordering that the Mr. Mays and Mr. Nelson be delivered absentee ballots in jail and be permitted to vote.
Plaintiffs' motion for class certification, as well as the full merits of the case, continue to be litigated.
Tommy Ray Mays II, Quinton Nelson Sr.
Campaign Legal Center, MacArthur Justice Center