Judge finds Ohio’s new election law constitutional

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Says photo ID requirement imposes ‘minimal burden’ for most voters

COLUMBUS (AP) — A federal judge has upheld as constitutional provisions of the sweeping election law that Ohio put in place last year, rejecting a Democratic law firm’s challenge to strict new photo ID requirements, drop box restrictions and tightened deadlines related to absentee and provisional ballots.

In a ruling issued Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Donald Nugent determined that the state’s new photo ID requirement “imposes no more than a minimal burden, if any, for the vast majority of voters.”

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Nugent also rejected the other claims asserted by the Elias Law Group, whose suit filed last year on behalf of groups representing military veterans, teachers, retirees and the homeless argued the law imposed “needless and discriminatory burdens” on the right to vote.

The suit was filed the same day Republican Gov. Mike DeWine signed the legislation over the objections of voting rights, labor, environmental and civil rights groups that had been pleading for a veto.

The judge wrote that voters have no constitutional right to a mail-in voting option — or, for that matter, early voting — at all. He added that Ohio’s new schedule for obtaining and returning absentee ballots remains more generous than 30 other states.

He said the claim that limiting ballot drop boxes to a single location harmed voters was misplaced, because the 2023 law was the state’s first to even allow them.

While that was true, Republican lawmakers’ decision to codify a single-drop box limit per county followed a years-long battle over the issue.

In the run-up to the 2020 election, three courts scolded Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose for issuing an order setting the single-box limit, calling it unreasonable and arbitrary. Democrats and voting rights groups had sought for drop boxes to be set up at multiple locations, particularly in populous counties, to ease voting during the coronavirus pandemic.

In a 2020 lawsuit filed by Democrats, a state appellate court ultimately ruled that LaRose had the power to expand the number of drop boxes without further legislative authorization, but that he didn’t have to. In codifying his single-box limit, the 2023 law addressed the issue for the first time.

But Nugent said opponents of the law failed to make a persuasive case.

“Put simply, Plaintiffs did not provide evidence that the drop-box rules of HB 458 imposed any burden on Ohio voters, much less an ‘undue’ one,” he wrote.

Derek Lyons, president and CEO of Restoring Integrity and Trust in Elections, a group co-founded by Republican strategist Karl Rove, praised the ruling in a statement.

“RITE is very proud to have helped defend Ohio’s important and commonsense election law,” he said. “With Ohio courts affirming the new law, voters can have confidence Ohio’s elections are an accurate measure of their will.”