Voting system challenged in suit

Published 9:55 am Tuesday, May 12, 2015

COLUMBUS (AP) — A new federal lawsuit alleging that Ohio’s voting arrangements disproportionately burden Democratic-leaning voters drew swift criticism from the political battleground state’s Republican elections chief Monday.

The top lawyer to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, Marc Elias, is among those representing the Ohio Organizing Collaborative and three individuals in the suit brought Friday — though Elias also represents the state and national Democratic parties and other Democratic clients.

The suit seeks relief from a host of voting rules and laws that survived a settlement agreement struck last month between GOP Secretary of State Jon Husted and the NAACP, ACLU and other civil-rights groups in a long-running early voting dispute.

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Husted said the settlement would have allowed for a “smooth, fair elections process” headed into next year’s presidential contest in a state with some of the most extensive early voting opportunities in the country.

“But some politicians don’t want peace, they just want to play politics, again,” he said in a statement mentioning Clinton by name. “Ohioans don’t want politically motivated, legal lap dogs messing around in our elections; this nonsense creates more confusion and discourages voting by undermining voter confidence.”

The new lawsuit asks Magistrate Judge Norah McCann King to block the uniform statewide voting schedule championed by Husted and return the voting arrangements to the old system that allowed counties to set their own hours. Uniformity was retained but expanded as part of the recent compromise. The suit says it effectively leaves voters in more populous counties — many of them black — with fewer opportunities to vote.

Without such relief, it says, the rights of the plaintiffs and “thousands of other residents of Ohio” would be “wrongfully burdened, abridged, and/or denied.”

Among other provisions challenged in the suit are:

• A rule limiting each county to a single early-voting location regardless of population;

• Increased restrictions on the ability to cast and count absentee and provisional ballots;

• Reductions in the number of electronic voting machines in counties where they’re the primary device;

• A policy excluding “inactive” voters from receiving a mailed absentee ballot application;

• A system dubbed “arbitrary” for deciding whether votes cast in multi-precinct voting locations are counted.

It says Husted administered this and other election changes “in a fashion that compounds these disproportionate burdens on African-American, Latino, and young voters.” The suit acknowledges these as “not coincidentally, core Democratic constituencies.”

Elias acknowledged his work for the Clinton campaign, but said the suit was filed on behalf of the named clients.

“My firm and I have brought a number of lawsuits throughout the country to vindicate the right to vote,” he said.

In a statement, the Clinton campaign said: “This lawsuit was not filed on behalf of the campaign. However, the campaign shares the concern about undue burdens being placed on the right to vote in states across the country, including Ohio.”

Hillary Clinton won the Democratic primary in Ohio in 2008, and her husband twice won Ohio in his successful bids for the presidency in 1992 and 1996.

Husted said, “I suspect Mrs. Clinton’s attorney may have filed his suit in the wrong state as Ohio has ample early voting hours. Perhaps he intended to sue Hillary’s home state of New York where they have no early voting days or hours.”