Elections

The Supreme Court’s ruling on Ohio’s voter ID laws: explained

A Joint Task Force Guantanamo Trooper fills out an absentee ballot for the upcoming presidential election, Oct. 8, 2008. Every JTF Trooper has the opportunity to register and vote while serving on U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay via absentee ballot.
Written by Alexander McEvoy

The United States Supreme Court denied an emergency action on Monday to put a stay on election laws SB 205 and SB 216 passed by the Ohio legislature in 2012, thereby guaranteeing voter identification laws that the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) has fought against for the past 10 years will remain in effect for the 2016 election.

SB 205 and 216 expanded the scenarios where board of elections offices could void absentee ballots as incomplete. Ohio’s General Assembly passed them to curb voter fraud in the state, but the NEOCH alleged that these bills were deliberate attempts to disenfranchise voters who made mistakes in filling out their ballots.

Various lawsuits led to the denial from the Supreme Court, starting back in 2006 when the NEOCH and the Services Employees International Union (SEIU) filed suit against then-Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, regarding Ohio’s new voter-identification laws at the time. NEOCH and SEIU alleged Brunner was violating the 14th Amendment.  

“Ohio’s strict application of the disqualification rules to ballot deficiencies caused by poll-worker error,” SEIU’s lawyers argued, according to the court documents.

NEOCH forced a consent decree in 2010 where Brunner created an exception that allowed provisional ballots to be deemed valid if “deficiency was due to poll-worker error,” the court documents said.

The state didn’t object to the decree until the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in the 2011 case Painter v. Brunner that “Ohio’s election laws offered no protections for wrong-precinct provisional ballots caused by poll-worker error.”

Because of this, the state moved to void the consent decree, arguing that it conflicted with state law and was unable to enforce it since it didn’t have the authority to change state laws. The court struck down the Secretary of State’s argument, ruling that the state did not prove its case.

The state appealed. At that point, the Ohio Democratic Party caught wind of the now five-year legal battle and joined NEOCH as a co-plaintiff. The case reached the district court as Jon Husted, Ohio’s current Secretary of State, took office and now stood against the NEOCH. Legal proceedings continued until 2013, and when the original consent decree was set to expire the court extended the decree until the end of 2016.  

Over the summer, the appellate court reached a verdict that, for the most part, ruled in favor of Husted and against NEOCH. NEOCH appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and requested an emergency stay on the voting laws to which the group objected. With a swift denial of a stay, the Supreme Court effectively ended NEOCH’s hopes for reform before the general election next week.  

It remains to be seen what the next step of both parties will be in the legal case.  

“With the rules now in place, election officials can continue with the important work of administering a fair and smooth election next week,” Husted said in a statement.  

Husted is fully focused on the coming election while NEOCH continues pushing the effects of the voter ID laws.

“The whole purpose of the ID was to protect against alleged voter fraud and they only had a few cases out of the millions of votes cast in Ohio,” said Brian Davis, the director of NEOCH. “They complained about that and created all of these rules around that but they’re willing to throw out 4,000 legitimate ballots of people who tried to vote but messed up something small on their ballot.”

About the author

Alexander McEvoy

Alex is a reporter covering cybersecurity and technology. Alex is a junior studying political science and journalism. Email him at [email protected] and find him on twitter @AlexTheMcEvoy. PGP Key: CA63 4191 C935 6B0D 356C 5698 6CC1 C941 B93F A6BC

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