ACLU of Ohio Calls on Officials to Stop Turning Voters Away at Polls
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Broken Machines, Disorganization Are Keeping Voters from Casting Ballots
CLEVELAND — Following widespread reports of people unable to vote throughout the state, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio today called for immediate attention to voters who are disenfranchised because of non-functioning machines, uninformed poll workers, disorganization in the voting precincts or by being turned away from the polls.
“No person should be turned away without voting,” said Christine Link, Executive Director of the ACLU of Ohio. “If the boards of election are having difficulty with machines or organizing themselves, the answer is not to deny people the vote but to keep precincts open and ensure that all people who are registered and want to vote are given an opportunity.”
Today’s primary election marks the first time that all areas of the state will use either electronic or optical scan voting technologies. In the weeks leading up to the election, reports from Akron and other areas of the state indicated that boards of election were having difficulties using the optical scan equipment and were unsure if they were going to work properly during Election Day.
According to news reports and eyewitness accounts, several early-morning voters in Cleveland and Columbus were turned away because machines were not working or poll workers were unsure of how to operate them. Other reports out of Clermont County near Cincinnati said that ballots were distributed that had missing information and new ballots had to be reordered and were obtained by mid-morning.
“While it is unreasonable to expect that any Election Day would happen without some problems, the fact that many precincts around the state are simply turning people away is unacceptable,” added Link. “Many of these people are certain to not be able to return to the precincts before polls close, effectively disenfranchising them.”
Link noted that the ACLU of Ohio has been extremely active in advocating for voting reform. Following the 2004 general election, the ACLU of Ohio partnered with the League of Women Voters Cleveland Education Fund to release a report on the common problems that voters experience. Both organizations called on the state to increase training for poll workers, enact same-day voter registration and improve the provisional balloting process.
“Despite widespread support for meaningful change to the election system, the state has refused to make these important changes to improve the voting process and protect the voting rights of all Americans,” said Link.
Last month, an appeals court agreed with the ACLU that Ohio’s use of punch-card ballots in some counties but not others violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Sixth Circuit found that punch-card ballots deprive voters of their due process right to have their votes counted accurately.
The ACLU of Ohio filed the class action lawsuit, Stewart v. Blackwell, in October 2002 in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Bush v. Gore. In the 2000 general election, 69 of Ohio’s 88 counties used punch-card ballots, resulting in thousands of uncounted votes. In its research, the ACLU was able to show that Ohio voters using punch-card ballots were, on average, four times as likely to have their votes go uncounted as voters using electronic voting equipment.
For more information on the Blackwell decision, go to www.aclu.org/votingrights/er/25250prs20060421.html
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