COLUMBUS– Today the ACLU of Ohio, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Dēmos filed an amicus brief on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Ohio and the Ohio A. Philip Randolph Institute in the case Ex Rel Ohio Democratic Party v Frank LaRose, a case in which Ohio political parties are fighting over when and how to conduct Ohio’s rescheduled primary election. The voting rights organizations do not take the side of any party in this case, but file this brief to alert the Court (and the parties) to two particular matters: that federal law requires the state to also adjust the voter registration deadline and the need to make voting accessible to eligible citizens.
The voting advocates point out that regardless of what date the primary election is to be held, federal law requires that Ohioans must be permitted to continue to register to vote up to 30 days in advance. The organizations also caution that the methods of voting in the rescheduled primary, as suggested by the political parties, rely exclusively on an overly narrow vote-by-mail scheme, and point out that reliance on that exclusive option will make voting inaccessible for some communities across the state.
“This public health crisis need not become a crisis for our democracy because when elections move, the protections of the Constitution and our voting rights laws move with them. Regardless of when Ohio holds its 2020 primary, the state must make voting accessible for all eligible Ohioans, especially Black and brown voters who too often are pushed to the sidelines of our democracy by obstacles such as arbitrary voter registration deadlines or burdensome procedures for voting absentee or at the polls,” concluded Brenda Wright, Senior Advisor for Legal Strategies at Dēmos.
“We cannot allow politics to get in the way of Ohio’s elections. Each person’s vote is sacred and must be counted. We must ensure that historically disenfranchised communities are given multiple ways to cast a ballot, and that includes in-person voting,” said Andre Washington, Executive Director of the Ohio A. Philip Randolph Institute.
"There is no perfect approach to holding an election during a global pandemic, but Ohio must abide by bedrock voter registration laws. Additionally, Ohio should ease the vote-by-mail process, which is cumbersome for seniors, youth, Ohioans with disabilities, and homeless citizens. Protecting public health is critical, but we must also do everything we can to preserve access for all eligible Ohio voters,” stated Jen Miller, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio.
“Whether the election date is reset for April 28, May 16, June 2, or some other day due to the coronavirus pandemic, federal law protecting the rights of voters still matters as much as ever. Eligible Ohioans must be permitted to register to vote up to 30 days prior to the primary. Further, the election must be accessible for all voters. Ohioans must be provided mechanisms beyond the current, narrow vote-by-mail system to participate safely in the upcoming election,” said Freda Levenson, Legal Director for the ACLU of Ohio.
“In responding to the current public health crisis, our governmental authorities must do everything possible to preserve the fundamentals of our democracy. This means insuring that, consonant with public safety, every person eligible to vote is provided the fullest possible opportunity to do so. We hope that the positions we lay out in our brief today will guide both the Ohio Supreme Court and Ohio’s elected and appointed officials in reaching that goal in these difficult times,” added Ezra Rosenberg, Co-Director of the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
A copy of the amicus brief is available here.