ACLU of Ohio Sues State for Violating African Americans' Voting Rights

Affiliate: ACLU of Ohio
October 11, 2002 12:00 am

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CINCINNATI–Saying that African-American voters in certain Ohio counties are more likely to have their ballots invalidated and discarded than white voters, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio today filed a federal class action lawsuit against the state for violating the voting rights of its minority residents.

“Ohio has a non-uniform, unequal, and inadequate system of voting,” said Paul Moke, the ACLU of Ohio cooperating attorney who filed the lawsuit. “The ACLU of Ohio has conducted a study that confirms there is a strong relationship between the racial composition of a voting precinct and the percentage of discarded ballots in that precinct.”

The ACLU’s lawsuit, Stewart v. Blackwell, alleges that statewide, slightly over 94,000 Ohioans had their ballots rejected in the 2000 presidential election. In Summit County, the number of discarded ballots was 7,413, a little over three percent of the total ballots cast there. Ten precincts within Summit County experienced discarded ballots at a rate of between 10 and 15 percent.

According to the study, disparities in rates of discarded ballots differ with the type of voting technology used in the different Ohio counties. In Franklin County, which uses “touch-screen” voting technology, the percentage of rejected ballots countywide was one-half of one percent, or six times less than in Summit County, where “punch-card” ballots are used.

Whereas “touch-screen” technology alerts voters to mistakes such as an unrecorded vote or a vote recorded twice before their votes are cast, Summit County uses error-prone “punch-card” ballots. This voting technology does not alert voters to mistakes they may have made, nor does it allow voters to correct their mistakes before casting their votes. According to ACLU attorneys, the only way to correct a voting mistake is to ask the poll worker for a new ballot and then repeat the voting process.

The ACLU of Ohio also alleges in the lawsuit that the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution has been violated and that Ohio’s voting system violates the rights of minority voters under Section Two of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. The lawsuit names as defendants county officials in Summit, Montgomery, Hamilton and Sandusky counties.

The legal complaint is online at /node/35083

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