ACLU Victorious in Challenge to Ohio’s Punch-Card Ballots

Affiliate: ACLU of Ohio
April 21, 2006 12:00 am

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CLEVELAND, OH – The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project announced victory today in a constitutional challenge to Ohio’s use of punch-card ballot voting technology.

“For over three years the State of Ohio has been promising new voting equipment, but failing to deliver. This ruling means that the state can no longer drag its feet,” said Daniel Tokaji, who argued the case before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. “This ruling sends a strong message to Ohio and every other state that inequalities in the voting process will no longer be tolerated.”

In today’s ruling, the appeals court agreed with the ACLU of Ohio that the state’s use of punch-card ballots in some counties but not others violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Sixth Circuit also found that punch-card ballots deprive voters of their due process right to have their votes counted accurately.

A study conducted by the ACLU of Ohio and the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project found that more than 94,000 Ohioans had their ballots rejected in the 2000 presidential election. In Summit County, where punch-card ballots were used, more than three percent of the total ballots cast were rejected. Conversely, in counties that used touch-screen voting methods, only one-half of one percent of ballots were rejected.

“The opinion of the court of appeals invalidating Ohio’s discriminatory voting technology is exceptionally well-written and scholarly,” said Laughlin McDonald, Director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “It is a monument to the concept — fundamental to American democracy — of the equal right to vote.”

Specifically, the appeals court found that punch-card voting was unconstitutional because of the high frequency of voting errors that occur when the system is used. This means that Ohio must immediately replace punch-card voting with less faulty systems, which essentially resolves the Voting Rights Act claim, according to McDonald.

The appeals court also rejected the district court’s dismissal of the ACLU’s claim that the use of punch-card ballots in Hamilton, Montgomery, and Summit Counties violates the Voting Rights Act because of their disparate impact on African-American voters. In light of today’s ruling, the case will return to the U.S. District Court in Akron and the court will, among other things, reevaluate its prior position regarding the impact of punch-card ballots on African-American communities.

The ACLU of Ohio filed the class action lawsuit, Stewart v. Blackwell, 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.

The Sixth Circuit’s decision is online at:

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