ACLU of Ohio and Voting Rights Groups Challenge Voter Intimidation Provision

August 29, 2006 12:00 am

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CLEVELAND, OH -- Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio along with the Brennan Center, Lawyers’ Committee and the ACLU Voting Rights Project filed a lawsuit challenging a voter intimidation provision in Ohio law that unfairly burdens naturalized U.S. citizens.

“This law singles out one group of U.S. citizens and places an unfair extra burden on them to cast their ballot,” said ACLU of Ohio cooperating attorney Daniel P. Tokaji. “The principle that every eligible voter should have equal access to the vote is a keystone of democracy.”

Tokaji said the provision, a section of Ohio House Bill 3, would allow poll workers to inquire whether a voter is a naturalized citizen and require those voters to provide proof of naturalization. If voters cannot provide proof at the polling place, they may cast provisional ballots but must go to the Board of Elections with documentation within 10 days of the election.

According to legal papers filed by the groups today, allowing poll workers to challenge someone’s ability to vote based on where they were born will open the door to ethnic and racial profiling and will almost certainly discourage voting by racial minorities and other immigrant groups.

Among the plaintiffs in the case are community organizations including the Asian American Bar Association, the Council on American-Islamic Relations of Ohio and the Federation of India Community Associations. The lawsuit also names nearly 20 individuals who represent naturalized U.S. citizens from around the state, including community activists, doctors and lawyers.

The voting provisions of the bill hearken back to the 2004 presidential election when partisan challengers in Ohio were allowed to question whether a person was an eligible voter, the ACLU said. Civil rights and voter advocacy groups decried such tactics as the last vestiges of “Jim Crow” voter intimidation laws.

“Many naturalized citizens fled nations where voting was difficult and citizens had to show documentation in order to participate in society,” said Tokaji. “After the strides the United States has made this year with renewal of the Voting Rights Act, it is disappointing that many U.S. citizens are no more free to cast their ballot than when they lived under abusive regimes in other nations.”

Today’s case was filed in federal court for the Northern District of Ohio. Cooperating attorneys with the ACLU of Ohio include Tokaji, a professor at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law; Meredith Bell-Platts, a staff attorney with the ACLU Voting Rights Project in Atlanta; Subodh Chandra, a Cleveland area attorney; the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

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